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Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel Paperback – January 10, 1999
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"The Swans of Fifth Avenue" by Melanie Benjamin
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The result is a novel with the broad social canvas (and love of coincidence) of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen's intense attention to the nuances of erotic maneuvering. Readers experience the entire life of a geisha, from her origins as an orphaned fishing-village girl in 1929 to her triumphant auction of her mizuage (virginity) for a record price as a teenager to her reminiscent old age as the distinguished mistress of the powerful patron of her dreams. We discover that a geisha is more analogous to a Western "trophy wife" than to a prostitute--and, as in Austen, flat-out prostitution and early death is a woman's alternative to the repressive, arcane system of courtship. In simple, elegant prose, Golden puts us right in the tearoom with the geisha; we are there as she gracefully fights for her life in a social situation where careers are made or destroyed by a witticism, a too-revealing (or not revealing enough) glimpse of flesh under the kimono, or a vicious rumor spread by a rival "as cruel as a spider."
Golden's web is finely woven, but his book has a serious flaw: the geisha's true romance rings hollow--the love of her life is a symbol, not a character. Her villainous geisha nemesis is sharply drawn, but she would be more so if we got a deeper peek into the cause of her motiveless malignity--the plight all geisha share. Still, Golden has won the triple crown of fiction: he has created a plausible female protagonist in a vivid, now-vanished world, and he gloriously captures Japanese culture by expressing his thoughts in authentic Eastern metaphors. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
-?Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I kept waiting for Golden to slip, for some implausibility in character or plot development, some anachronism or "artistic license" that would have made me feel cheated-but it never happened. Without further research, it's difficult for me to comment on the book's historical and cultural accuracy, but it always felt true, and Golden's simple but powerful language is absolutely compelling. The book surpassed my already high expectations, and increased my appreciation of--and curiousity about--historical Japanese social structure in general, and geisha culture in particular. Above all, this is a completely satisfying book about perseverance within boundaries. Both the story and the writing are filled with grace, power, and beauty.
I think it also bears mentioning that the average Japanese person today knows almost as little about the life of a typical geisha as the average Westener. Geisha entertainment has always been the province of extremely wealthy, powerful men--going to a teahouse to be entertained by geisha served the same function for a Japanese VIP that a British one would find at his tony men's club. Throughout the centuries that Japan's entertainment quarters--"the flower and willow world" as they call it--has existed, the number of patrons who could afford top-notch geisha entertainment for themselves and their friends has been an exclusive club indeed. In today's highly Westernized and technology-worshipping Japan, the idea of a geisha party is nearly as anachronistic and unattainable as it is here. Geisha belong to the same catagory as cowboys, knights on horseback and damsels-in-distress: cultural icons who have no place in the modern world. Mr. Golden does a superb job of capturing some of the magic of Sayuri's metier for those of us who will never have the opportunity to witness it firsthand.Read more ›
It's the fictional story, cleverly told from an autobiographical point of view, of one of Japan's most famous and enthralling Geisha, a woman of a profession commonly mistaken for prostitution (Golden draws some clever and insightful distinctions between the two, both in general and specifically). Sayuri tells her story from her humble beginnings as Chiyo, the daughter of an impoverished fisherman, through desperation, war and trial, to the final happy ending.
For a man to write so convincingly as a woman is a very rare thing - Nick Hornby's 'How to be Good' is an example of how it can go wrong - but for an American man to write so beautifully and convinvingly as a Japanese woman from a highly secretive society is an unequivocal triumph. We believe, from the first few chapters, that Sayuri is this observant, silent little thing, a lower-class child facing the arduous and enforced task of becoming a Geisha. We are there with her when she is sold into servitude, when she attempts a failed escape, when she eventually becomes a successful geisha - all thanks to Golden's rare gift for combining a strong plot with incredible descriptive prose. You can smell the incense and see the kimono as Sayuri is preparing to go to work.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The book reveals the horrible condition poor Japanese fishers had to live in, and the even worse status of children, especially girls. Read morePublished 5 days ago by Joelle Humblet
A real lesson in the TRUTH of the life of a Geisha. I always thought they were "just prostitutes." The culture of the Geisha was eye-opening and a history lesson.Published 10 days ago by Andrea Y. Mosley
This book is seriously one of the best books I have ever read!!! The writing is so detailed and the story itself is utterly magnificent! Definitely a classicPublished 11 days ago by Amazon Customer
Beautiful journey through unique culture and history. Didn't want the book to end.Published 13 days ago by Amazon Customer
Where do I begin about this book, this is the only book written by Mr. Golden and it is loved by everyone. I have read this book 12 times and I can read it 12 more times. Read morePublished 16 days ago by Pen Name
So descriptive and artistic. Every page like a poem. Loved it. Would recommend to anyone looking to read about love, loss and life.Published 19 days ago by Jessica
Way way way better than the movie. A must read if you love geshia like me.Published 20 days ago by Amazon Customer