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Date Posted: 16:31:15 02/03/06 Fri
Author: Syl
Subject: Memoirs of a Geisha

This was sent in by Serena a while ago. I thought Id put it up on the board now, as it seems topical, what with the film just out. Brilliant job, Serena! Thanks!

TITLE: Memoirs of a Geisha

AUTHOR: Arthur Golden

GENRE: Fiction

I will admit to being a pop culture junkie. The reason I picked this book up is because I simply love the cinematography that has been presented in recent years by such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers. I saw a sneak peek of cuts from the upcoming movie Memoirs of a Geisha, and it seems to be filmed much as Hero was...great expressive use of color to tell a story. Couple that with a childhood of oriental interests in martial arts & all things Japanese, and I had a dual interest. So, I thought Id better get my hands on the book, so I have the actual text in mind when I see the movie.

I was pleased by my reading experience. I will not, however say that the book is as good as I hoped it would be.

The text deals with the life of a young girl from a fishing village in Japan, named Chiyo, and her transformation as a peasant into a celebrated geisha called Sayuri of Gion in Kyoto. It also covers her maturation from a child, into a young woman during the pre and post WWII years, and her trials in the form of a vengeful geisha named Hatsumomo.

The best aspect of this book is its description of the life of a geisha. You can feel the weight of the kimono and obi as Chiyo/Sayuri puts them on and learns to walk all over again under the immense weight of yards of gorgeous silk. You get to a point where you dread, and yet can't help but anticipate her first trip to the hairdressers for the "split peach" for the first time. As Chiyo becomes Sayuri, and puts on the traditional white face makeup for the first time, you thrill with the transformation that has been so long in coming for her. As an American, I was even mildly repulsed, but totally fascinated by the whole idea of the selling of her mizuage (virginity) to the highest bidder.

I was also fascinated by the naivety of the main characters. I understand that "back then" things weren't so frank as they are about life in general and sex in particular, as they are today. You would think, from a western perspective that people who make thier livings in this manner would be more forthright about the issue. It isn't so. If anything, this book gives you the idea that geisha were, if possible, more naive than most, because it isn't about sex at all really. They aren't prostitutes, they are (as the book will tell you) considered artisans. Their main art being one of dance, and entertaining high-powered men with the use of "drinking games" and entertaining conversation, and other means of keeping a party going. Sex was (implied by the book) to be more for a geisha's danna, or patron, or "sugar daddy." Even Sayuri's mentor, Mameha, gives such a childish explanation of sex that you begin to wonder if these women ever see themselves as anything more than playthings of men.

This naivety carries throughout the main character's life, as she moves about in a world that she has no education to understand, in her highly stylized and sheltered role as geisha. Her first realization comes when she lets go of the dream that she will escape this life that she was sold into and return to her home in the little fishing village she grew up in. Followed later by another realization that she is only geisha, when she is in Kyoto, or living as geisha. Otherwise, she would be no more than a regular peasant. No better than anyone else. Followed by a return to her life as geisha, when she realizes that to get what she wants, she has to take some control of her life instead of letting those around her plan everything for her. This tends to leave our protagonist very shallow throughout the book, and at times, less than sympathetic. You do care what happens to her, but at times mostly because you want to hear more about the ways of geisha than any real thought to her problems.

This causes the last problem I had with the book. As someone on Amazon said...her greatest love (the one that is supposed to drive her throughout her young adulthood) is nothing more than a symbol really. He is her ultimate goal, yet you never get to know him other than through Sayuri's eyes, which puts him on a pedestal as something to eventually be attained, not really as a human she can actually love.

So, a compelling read, though not one of the best books I've ever read. I liked the historical aspect of the story, and I liked Sayuri/Chiyo and her tale as well as the other characters. I hated Hatsumomo, as I was meant to, and I thrilled when she was finally booted into the night after many years of torture inflicted upon Sayuri, and others. A bit shallow on the impetous of the story in general, but entertaining as a whole. Pick it up, but don't expect to be greatly moved.

Oh and one last thing. DO NOT pick it up looking for great sex, or other lascivious pursuits. They do not exist in this book.

Then again, I also think Scarlett O'Hara is a shallow nitwit, so WTFDIK??? ;-)

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[> I was tremendously moved by the story. After living in Japan I have a much better understanding of the culture and especially the customs, interactions and expectations (geisha or otherwise) between men and women. Once I understood all of that, I read the book again and had many 'a-ha' moments and was also able to leave my western pov on the bedside table. I understood all of the characters and enjoyed their stories. -- Tracyg, 16:48:09 02/03/06 Fri

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[> What a lovely review you have done, really in depth. I could tell you were moved by the story. I read the book a few years ago as a former boss "gave" it to me to see if I would like it and I knew I had to read it. I thought it slurped big time. Was one of the most depressing books I have ever read, in fact it is on my list of all time horrible reads. Although I must admit that the writing was excellent. -- beccabee, 17:26:53 02/03/06 Fri

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[> This was one of the most beautifully-written books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It immersed me in a completely different culture and way of thinking. As you pointed out, there's a lot that's messed up in this world of geisha - and Sayuri's fairy tale ending feels exactly like a fairy tale - but that didn't stop me from enjoying this book. I read it first five years ago and just re-read it a couple of weeks ago to see if it held up to my memory. It's not "Outlander," but it still has a place on my keeper shelf. -- Lynn H., 10:56:42 02/04/06 Sat

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[> I also had difficulty understanding why she was so in love with the Chairman. They had so few interactions together. I think you're right, he became a symbol. Then, that ending! Totally lost me. A much better book was Gail Tsukiyama's "Women of the Silk". It takes place in China, not Japan, but still opens up the mysteries of the Orient to the reader, and the characters are far more realistic. That said, I am planning to see the Geisha movie. -- JulieQ, 20:50:22 02/05/06 Sun

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[> [> When rewatching Disney's Cinderella after it came out on DVD recently, I had the same thought. "She doesn't even know him!" But that didn't stop me from enjoying the movie as a whole. I guess I don't mind if things in a story are realistic, as long as they are still enjoyable. -- Lynn H., 10:21:53 02/06/06 Mon

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[> Memoirs of a Geisha -- Lady Terry, 13:56:40 07/22/06 Sat

I loved the review by Serena. I wholeheartedly agree with her and would only add my fascination at the male author's ability to tell this woman's story!

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