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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 alternate Paperback edition.
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 alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
The story of Saiyuri is a very detailed one, and how she came to be a geisha. The (fictional) biographical novel of a geisha is definitely a wonderful read. I love all things Japanese, and this book is a great insight into the world, as it is well researched and well written. In some places it is like a story, and in others it is like reading an encyclopedia of Japanese culture, and the two mix so well together that it is almost unnoticeable. The characters are believable, and each ones follows their path in life and you know where most of them land. That is definitely good story-telling.
Moreover, the book is also going to draw you into a life story you will want to know about, even if you saw the movie first (like me). believe me, the movie has nothing on the book. It only gives you a visual for what the world looks like. The true depth of the book is much deeper, stronger and more drawn out in a way that the reader will find most enjoyable.
NOTE: Do not compare this to the hideous movie version!!!! If you liked the movie, get the book. If you hated the movie...well, get the book.
I will now gush:
This book is perfect from front to back. It reads easily. The writer doesn’t forget that we are not necessarily familiar with Japanese customs or history. I almost consider it a thing I should leave out of my review but you WILL forget that this book was written by a man.
I first saw this book on The Sopranos. Mrs. Soprano was reading it in night time shots, in bed. Of course, I thought that it might be a dirty book, being on that show and being about Geishas. Do not let that fool you at all.
This book takes us from a childhood to an old woman. It’s long, but not unnecessarily so. This last comment is a very personal opinion and I will tell you why. I LOVED every word about the details of the main character’s home and childhood. How she went from living a poor but rich life, to becoming what could be seen as the worlds greatest Geisha. I relished every word about the incredible Kimonos, from how to put one on ( a real one, not a kimono dress from the states) to the patterns that each tell a story of their own. I drank in every word about the application of a Geisha’s make-up, to their training in tea ceremonies to every nuance while entertaining.
This book has it all. A love story, rising above abuse, enemies that MEAN to do you harm, education, history!!
If you have the slightest interest in Geishas, you must read this book! If you love a love story, get this book! ETC ETC ETC
Note: Geishas are NOT prostitutes. This is not a book about sex.
I give this my highest praise, higher than anything I have ever reviewed. It’s the perfect gift. It’s beautifully written and completely engaging. It never gets old for me. I can pick it up and read anywhere in the book and become instantly transported.