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I am a great lover of any fiction set in what I consider the Japanese heyday, and I've read every book I can lay my hands on from Geisha of Gion through to classics like James Clavell's Shogun. So when I stumbled across this one (and I really mean stumbled as I took it in a readitswapit swop, it's near impossible to find on Amazon by name, very few people seem to have read or reviewed it so it never comes up on the recommendation lists) I was quite excited.
The book is largely based around Kiki, the granddaughter of great geisha Akiko. Kiki is a modern American, living in Manhattan, looking forward to the arrival of her grandmother who she has never met. Kiki imagines a bond between her and her grandmother, a shared understanding, despite cultural differences and the fact they do not speak a word of the same language. There are however several chapters giving the background to her grandmothers life as a geisha.
The attempts to draw a comparison between the women fail, Kiki comes across as quite delusional and at many points in the book I wondered if the ending would be that she discovers she has a brain tumour or similar. I found it hard to emphasise with any of the characters, as they all seemed quite cold and hardened, with utterly dysfunctional inter-personal relations.
Kiki is in a relationship with Eric, but seems to be missing a man named Phillip, who she imagines is still lurking naked in her apartment. It is suddenly revealed that Phillip died recently and it is his spirit or ghost Kiki is seeing. However this isn't the only thing she sees, Kiki also sees purple moths, which Eric sees as normal house moths. Eric seems bland, but charming throughout the book, until a sudden and unexplained personality change towards the end, which was unnecessary and sloppily written, an additional explanation for the failure of Kiki and Eric's relationship so soon after Phillips death was unnecessary.
While the parts of the book detailing Akiko's life as a geisha and child in rural Japan were interesting, they were quite scant and went into little detail. Compared to the richness painted of Manhattan, I felt the book was poorly researched about the major theme. The overriding feeling I was left with from the book was that it was a more mainstream anti-love story, but the author wanted to pick up on a trendier theme to avoid being daubed with the chic list brush.
The title of this book comes from the saying that a geisha knows one hundred and one ways to please a man. It does not seem an overly appropriate title, and Kiki does not seem bothered about pleasing anyone but the ghost of Phillip, and at times seems almost childlike in her reticence.
While 'One Hundred and One Ways' was a perfectly readable book, it was also forgettable. It took me a long time to get through it, despite being a moderately slim paperback, as I just had no drive to pick it up. Only for the die hard fans of Japanese culture.