Thursday, April 27, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Author: Arthur Golden
ISBN # 0099771519
Publisher: Vintage
First Published: 1997
428 pages

“A true Geisha can stop a man with a single look.”

Summoning up more than twenty years of Japan's most dramatic history, it uncovers a hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. From a small fishing village in 1929, the tale moves to the glamorous and decadent heart of Kyoto in the 1930s, where a young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York; it exquisitely evokes another culture, a different time and the details of an extraordinary way of life. It conjures up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of geisha - dancing and singing, how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the most powerful men.

Due to the publicity surrounding the film (which I’ve not yet seen), I was drawn to the book and am so pleased it lived up to my expectations. Although it moves at a sedate pace, every chapter manages to feel momentous, even if only in a small way at times, and the richly drawn world of a Gion Geisha is vividly brought to life. Descriptions of the many kimono and tea ceremonies manage to instill a feeling of grandeur to the tale, despite the humble beginnings of the heroine.

The plot isn’t action-packed and is, at times, predictable, but this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of reading the story and I found myself completely immersed in the evocative and provocative life of these women who live purely to entertain men in accordance to ancient tradition, without thought of their own happiness or ever feeling free to experience love for themselves.

At times it is quite harrowing – the depiction of a culture that will sell it’s daughters into a life of servitude, whether as a potential Geisha or to a life of domestic servitude, seems worlds away from the Western ideal, and yet there is something appealing in the former (though definitely not the latter), with all the mystery surrounding them – yet at other times, there is pure hope shining out from between the pages and it is ultimately an uplifting story with a positive slant.

For me, it has spawned a previously unrealized interest in the Japanese culture and I will most certainly be reading more books of a similar ilk, however, I think this one will shine like a pearl and stand out as something precious and special no matter how many I read.

Rating: 8


Blogger Clare said...

I've had my eye on this one, keep looking at it but, never buying it, excellent review, think I'll take the plunge!

7:52 am  
Blogger The Book Fiend said...

I had been eyeing it for ages too before I picked it up via RISI. THere are usually several copies on the go there, so if you nip along to you might be able to grab one for the price of posting a book in return.

Happy reading!

8:25 am  

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