Sunday, November 26, 2006

Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda

Author: Sayo Masuda (Translated from Japanese by G. G. Rowley)
ISBN # 0099462044

Publisher: Vintage

First Published: 1957 (Translation: 2003)

186 pages

Rating: 7/10

The Blurb:
Sayo Masuda's story is an extraordinary portrait of rural life in Japan and an illuminating contrast to the fictionalised lives of glamorous geishas. At the age of six Masuda's poverty-stricken family sent her to work as a nursemaid. At the age of twelve, she was indentured to a geisha house. In "Autobiography of the Geisha", Masuda chronicles a harsh world in which young women faced the realities of sex for sale and were deprived of their freedom and identity. She also tells of her life after leaving the geisha house, painting a vivid panorama of the grinding poverty of rural life in wartime Japan. Many years later Masuda decided to tell her story. Although she could barely read or write she was determined to tell the truth about life as a geisha and explode the myths surrounding their secret world. Remarkable frank and incredibly moving, this is the record of one woman's survival on the margins of Japanese society.

The Review:
Having read several other “Geisha” books, I already had something with which to make a comparison and this autobiography is starkly different from the others. The style is much simpler, having being written by a woman who was almost completely illiterate when she first committed her life to the page in order to submit it to a magazine in the hopes of winning the much-needed prize money. This seems to be quite a faithful translation, as the simplicity shines through on every page and there is an honesty attached to every word that makes this quite striking as well as moving.

The harsh reality of life in the “Flower and Willow” world is that women were seen purely as objects, there for the entertainment of those who could afford them; starved of genuine affection and struggling to make ends meet when they were finally freed from the life of a Geisha.

Autobiography also differs in that it focuses less on the training experiences, and more on personal experiences of Masuda – it’s not pretty and, at times, difficult to read, but very much worth it as a story of hope and survival.


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