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Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel Paperback – January 10, 1999
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According to Arthur Golden's absorbing first novel, the word "geisha" does not mean "prostitute," as Westerners ignorantly assume--it means "artisan" or "artist." To capture the geisha experience in the art of fiction, Golden trained as long and hard as any geisha who must master the arts of music, dance, clever conversation, crafty battle with rival beauties, and cunning seduction of wealthy patrons. After earning degrees in Japanese art and history from Harvard and Columbia--and an M.A. in English--he met a man in Tokyo who was the illegitimate offspring of a renowned businessman and a geisha. This meeting inspired Golden to spend 10 years researching every detail of geisha culture, chiefly relying on the geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who spent years charming the very rich and famous.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
"I wasn't born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha....I'm a fisherman's daughter from a little town called Yoroido on the Sea of Japan." How nine-year-old Chiyo, sold with her sister into slavery by their father after their mother's death, becomes Sayuri, the beautiful geisha accomplished in the art of entertaining men, is the focus of this fascinating first novel. Narrating her life story from her elegant suite in the Waldorf Astoria, Sayuri tells of her traumatic arrival at the Nitta okiya (a geisha house), where she endures harsh treatment from Granny and Mother, the greedy owners, and from Hatsumomo, the sadistically cruel head geisha. But Sayuri's chance meeting with the Chairman, who shows her kindness, makes her determined to become a geisha. Under the tutelage of the renowned Mameha, she becomes a leading geisha of the 1930s and 1940s. After the book's compelling first half, the second half is a bit flat and overlong. Still, Golden, with degrees in Japanese art and history, has brilliantly revealed the culture and traditions of an exotic world, closed to most Westerners. Highly recommended.
-?Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
as for book vs. movie- after i read the book i watched the movie and noticed a lot of changes. the book is really long so i don't blame the writers for leaving stuff out and making modifications. when you read the book you get a better understanding of the characters. i kind of felt like reading the book first ruined the movie for me because i expected it to be just as good as the book, but it's really hard to make a movie as good as a book, not to mention a really long book.
over all- this book is the best book i've ever read. you get to see a society that's so different from ours. plus i loved the historical context. this is a must read!
Suffice to say that I was completely captivated from Chapter one, and was even reluctant to put it down at the end. The novel tells the story of a young Japanese girl named Chiyo who is taken from her village in the 1930s and sent to Gion, to an okiya or geisha house. Her sister Satsu is also taken, but lacking Chiyo's striking beauty, she is sent to a house of ill repute. At first Chiyo dreams of finding Satsu and running away from Gion, but later realizes that this is never going to happen.
The resident geisha at her okiya is a jealous and arrogant woman named Hatsumomo, who sabotages Chiyo's progress towards becoming a geisha herself, leaving Chiyo in the unenviable position of being a maid for the rest of her life. Fortunately for Chiyo, a chance encounter with a wealthy businessman (known as the Chairman) opens new doors for her and this brief meeting changes the course of her life forever.
Soon, Hatsumomo's rival, an extremely popular and successful geisha named Mameha decides to take Chiyo under her wing as her little sister, and after the usual haggling over fees and royalties is completed, Chiyo finally gets her chance to continue her geisha training. An intense and vicious rivalry develops between the geisha "tag teams" of Hatsumomo and her trainee Pumpkin, and Mameha and Chiyo, who then assumes the geisha name Sayuri.
With the threefold purpose of defeating Hatsumomo, winning a wager, and paying off Sayuri's debts, Mameha orchestrates a bidding war between rich men for the apparently acceptable privilege of deflowering her young apprentice, the financial results of which set a new record in geisha history at the time.
Just when things seem to be settling down nicely, two events shatter the relative calm, and Sayuri finds herself torn emotionally by the reappearance of the Chairman, and then later, mentally and physically by the outbreak of World War II. After the War, she goes back to being a geisha, but has to choose between following her heart and following what seems to be the obvious path.
The film and the novel are different in several sections, even down to the ending, but of course the book provides a lot of important background information that could not be captured in the movie version, even though I'm not sure of the historical accuracy. I would strongly recommend them BOTH to anyone who is not familiar with the amazing gilded world of Geisha.
Amanda Richards, April 14, 2007