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"Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden

 

Fodor's Guidebook "Memoirs of a Geisha" - Arthur Golden

Review by: W. Dire Wolff - Copyright 1999

During the course of my travels in Japan I have had the great fortune of being entertained by Japanese business associates in some very exclusive clubs and establishments. In these clubs, we enjoyed a night of relaxation after a long day or week of grueling business meetings. The evenings often entailed an evening drinking fine whiskey, good conversations, and taking turns singing "Karaoke style" to prerecorded or live music accompaniment. The establishments we visited employed hostesses that poured our drinks, sparked our conversations, and sang for us in their turn. Imagine my surprise when I learned after only a half of bottle of whiskey and a few hours time, we were charged close to one thousand US dollars for the entertainment. For many westerners such an evening seems an unthinkable wasted expense, and more unthinkable was these hostesses had no obligation to provide sexual flavors and such contact was in fact not part of the arrangement. Although these experiences began my own personal understanding into the arts of the Japanese Geisha, it was a far cry from the society that blossomed in the majestic beauty found in the ancient city of Kyoto, Japan.

Although I have asked many people to help me understand the role and responsibilities of the Geisha, the explanations have ranged from artistic entertainers to high class prostitutes. Perhaps Arthur Golden's book "Memoirs of a Geisha" can help some of us westerns to begin to understand the interesting culture of the traditional Japanese Geisha. The book tells the story of Japanese girl named Sayuri who was sold by her father into the Geisha society. It is told through the eyes of an aged woman reflecting back on the struggles and joys of her difficult journey to find happiness. Her story not only tells of her own loneliness, hardships, love, and joys, but that of the the other geisha and businessmen she traveled through life with. It's a story about the days of decadence before World War II, and the hardships that followed. "Memoirs of a Geisha" provides a compelling story to serve as a backdrop to relate the historical facts of a geisha's day-to-day life in the 1930's and 1940's.

The sense of honor and position in Japanese society is very important. Through the course of the characters' interpersonal interaction, the author relates some of the nuances of their culture. Further thought provoking questions of the society's sense of order are revealed in this novel. In particular, the respect shown between business associates and the Geisha and their displays of affection (or lack of affection) and interest in each other reflects the basis of the roots of the Japanese culture. Although some of the more traditional models of position have fallen by the wayside, modern Japanese people continue to live according to some of the same unspoken rules of social order.

The book touches on subjects that some people will find rather disturbing. In particular, the sexual roles of the Geisha and the people around them can be rather cold and blunt. Some readers will dwell on the sexual encounters of the Geisha, while others will ponder the interaction that was devoid of such expectations. The reader can make their own judgments on if the Geisha is in fact an artist or a prostitute. There are tales of treachery and betrayal. Yet we are also allowed some glimpses into the bonding and loyalty that underlies some the Japanese peoples' interpersonal interaction. The questions of values and judgment are covered lightly when the Geisha ponders her role versus the sexual interaction of the American mistress' and their own wealthy benefactors. In the end, the reader is left to ask and answer these types of questions of their own choosing. The storyteller merely tries to explain many aspects of the Geisha culture through the examples set by the good and bad she finds in the characters that passed through her life.

Arthur Golden's novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" can be purchased from Amazon.Com in book or audiocassette. Please follow the links on this page to purchase this captivating novel.

Review by: W. Dire Wolff - Copyright 1999

 

Review by Amazon.Com follows:


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 the hardcover edition of this title

 

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