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Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
Member Name: dswhite
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
Advantages: you want to keep reading
Disadvantages: unfortunately it had to end somewhere
I first came across this book about 6 years ago and read it then and I have now read it again. It was as great an experience second time around.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is a fictional book written in the form of a memoir as the name suggests, by the former geisha in Kyoto, Japan. And strangely enough it was written by a man! Well, I guess some men are able to successfuly " enter" a woman's soul as it it was their own as once you will read this book you will be dissapointed this was not a true story.
Memoirs of a Geisha starts with a little introduction from the supposed translator who has transcribed the story dictated to him by the heroine of the story and how he came about to write it down. Later we move on to the actual story as told by Chiyo who was later called Sayuri - her adopted geisha name.
As you noticed, I titled this review a Parallel World and it is for a reason as while reading the book , you feel as it's impossible that in the 20th century, there could be a world somewhere out there where women lived like that and it was an accepted or rather not unsual situation. I don't want to state the obvious to those who are very aware of what was being involved in being a geisha and what was their life about but while reading the story, you really learn so much about this life that you would otherwise never know ( unless you read another book on geisha's life ). Geisha, contrary to the public misconception, were not just prostitutes. They were women trained since childhood to entertain men in teahouses and the skills they posessed were of singing, dancing and playing shamisen ( a musical instrument ) as well as performing tea ceremony and most importantly be witty and interesting to get a lot of work. They did not have to be beautiful and often they were not even particularly bright but that could cause them to fail as a geisha. Their life revolved around getting dressed up in beautiful expensive kimonos however it was not all fun and games as those women were often sold into becoming a geisha and they may have started of as servants for the okiya ( a house into which they were sold into ). Okiya would be often owned by former geishas who either failed in their career or just decided to continue their life "behind the curtains". Okiya owned the kimonos the geisha wore and often there would be more than one geisha living in the household. But getting back to what geisha do. Other than entertaining, they would hope to catch a danna - in other words a rich official lover and that would involve gifts and of course sex. One danna at a time though. However, if geisha had no danna, she would not sleep with other men unless she had an actual boyfriend on the side but then that was not really accepted by their okiyas as their job was to ensure they could snare a rich man and make money for their okiya. But some geisha apparently went without having a danna for years and all they would do is just purely entertain groups of men in teahouses and charge them for it. But if they did get a rich enough danna, that could free them from living in the okiya and they could set themselves up in their own flat or home.
Chiyo, which is our heroine was such young girl in pre-World War II small fishing village in Japan who was sold by her father and together with her sister was taken to be trained as geisha in Kyoto. Not that she knew about it at first, this all came as news later on. The story is absolutely beautiful and you really feel srry for the confused little girl whose life has been suddenly turned around and she has been transported to a new home and has to reasses what is going on and who she can count on. Unfortunately for a long while it's only herself and it can't be easy when you are 9 or 10.
The story develops as Chiyo starts turning into a teenaged and then a young woman and the choices she has to make to survive in this world of geishas which is certainly not easy. We also learn about her lifelong dreamand whether it comes true or not. The story takes place mainly in Gion which is a geisha district in Kyoto and it is called a geisha district so it really is a separate world to the one that Chiyo's contemporaries were living in the rest of Japan. There were few other geisha districts in Kyoto as well as in other cities but we really only learn about the customs of Gion or Kyoto's geishas.
I recommend this book if you are looking for an amazing story and want to learn something about other people's lifestyles and lives. The book is very well written, the characters are very well developed and it's a genuine pleasure to read it and you really feel as if you were there and you definitely feel for the main character. I was very dissapointed when the story was over and I was also dissapointed that I won't be able to go to Japan and see the setting of the book as it was in the time of the story or even earlier as geisha culture has been around for some hundreds of years as the story really drew me in the first and second time around and it will be a while before I will be as influenced by a book.
Summary: Book that will keep you glued to it until you finish