“Geisha Of Gion” just whetted my appetite for more books on the geiko world. Luckily, I had this book to momentarily satisfy my craving.
Author: Arthur Golden
First Published: 1997 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Inc.
This Edition Published: 1999 ( Mass Paperback)
Publisher: Vintage Books
No. Pages: 502
The Story :
In the poor village of Yoroida, a little girl with startling blue-gray eyes, is plucked from her parents and sold to an okiya, a geisha house, in Gion. Chiyo’s eyes are a rarity in Japan, so her potential as a stunning geisha earns the greedy regard of Mother, the okiya’s proprietress and the spiteful jealousy of the house’s star geisha, Hatsumomo. Together, they bear down on Chiyo’s confusion and homesickness which drive her to escape the okiya’s oppressive life. Her attempt, however, fails with a fall from a roof and a broken arm. For this she becomes a disappointment and a bad investment and so doomed by the okiya to be an abused, overworked maid instead.
Chiyo pours out her misery one day, as life seems to stretch out bleakly before her. A kind, well-dressed stranger, in the company of a geisha, spies her and gives her comfort with his handkerchief and a coin for a snowcone. This innocent encounter marks a turning point in Chiyo’s life. His kindness sparks a childish crush so that Chiyo begins to perceive a clear goal for life — becoming a geisha, this being the only possible way she sees for someone of her station to meet him again.
As luck would have it, another of Gion’s star geishas, Mameha, seems enthralled by Chiyo’s eyes so that she negotiates with Mother to bring Chiyo under her tutelage. With Mameha’s lessons, Chiyo transforms into Sayuri and becomes the most sought- after maiko (apprentice geisha) and inevitably comes into contact with the kind stranger known as the Chairman. Sayuri, by now has fallen in love with him. However, the Chairman’s business partner, Nobu, becomes attracted to her instead.
What follows is a beautiful story of suppressed passion and love that spans time and circumstance.
The Review :
Few books have thoroughly captivated me as much as “Memoirs of A Geisha“. The first few chapters hint at serving one with a sumptuous literary feast of exquisite prose, mesmerizing details of the exotic and secretive “flower and willow” world, and an uncommon emotional depth, all of which seem to flow so effortlessly from Golden’s pen.
Golden’s writing has a very lyrical quality to it and the book is rife with creatively crafted descriptions and charming little asides from the main character’s point of view. It is quite astonishing how Arthur Golden, being a man, could write so intimately and convincingly about a young girl’s psyche.
The novel is full of analogies, metaphors, and descriptive phraseologies; yet, strangely, it isn’t burdened by them. On the contrary, words flow so naturally and combine so beautifully to paint a lovely, poignant story that has touched the hearts of readers everywhere; hence, its international bestseller status.
Aside from a romantic, sensitively written story, one experiences the obsequious, community-dependent, perfection-driven, and heavily nuanced geisha culture whose exotically mysterious nature provides the book with a wonderfully different romantic flavor.
As An Aside :
Indeed, geisha depiction here is quite different from what Mineko Iwasaki (Japan’s foremost geisha in the 70’s) wanted to project in her memoirs, “Geisha of Gion“. After she was thanked by Golden as his major source, Mineko was believed to be the real-life basis of Golden’s character, Sayuri; hence, the reported falling out between these two authors.
Golden renders the geisha more as a courtesan, whose sole purpose is to entertain men — entertainment, here, meaning one catering to all: from the highest artistic forms down to more baser pleasures. Mineko Iwasaki, on the other hand, insists that real geishas are artists, trained in artistic customary perfection from a very young age, to carry on the tradition in Japanese entertainment.
Perhaps, both are right. I’m surmising that there must be social hierarchies in the geisha community, with the existence of high-class and low-class geishas. Mineko Iwasaki was perhaps telling her story from her viewpoint atop the community’s pinnacle while Golden was trying to tell his from the viewpoint of those at the base.
However it is, Japanese culture has never been more interesting after these two books, and I hope to lay my hands on more on the same subject.
To Read Or Not To Read :
“Memoirs of A Geisha” is certainly a must-read not just for lovers of romance, but also for those who want a well written story that informs as well as pleasures the reader with its intelligence, sensitivity, and femininely graceful style.
This is a book worth keeping on your shelf to be re-read as a treat, years after you’ve done with it. Its tale is as timeless as enduring love.
My Mark : Excellent