Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Given the general craziness of this week and the length of this book, I’m quite astonished with how quickly I finished it.

But first, week craziness. I’ve discovered that I’m really, truly, simply not good at painting. I may be a fine artist in many respects, and I may have an artistic eye, but… to be honest, it must be in the hands. I can’t put to paper/canvas exactly what I see in my mind, and it’s incredibly frustrating. Therefore, I’m quite skilled with photography, and incredibly unimpressive when it comes to painting or drawing. I say this because I’m currently taking a painting class at this moment, and I am seriously not cutting it. We are doing a project, the “extended square,” where we have a 2×3 abstract picture printed on a large piece of white paper, and we have to paint the paper so that you can’t spot the square. Yes, it is as bloody hard as it sounds, but I think I’m the only one in class who finds it so. Everyone else loves it.

Also for this class, we’re granted several blank canvases to paint on our own whims, in our own home, which sounds like a dream, and it’s really not a bad thing. I enjoy having this canvas. I think this entire story can be rounded up by just saying that I’m and sitting in the middle of one hell of an art block, and it’s slowly sapping away my life force.

On top of that, I’ve got other school issues, such as this paper I have to write for tomorrow night, which the teacher never gave me the means to complete. We had a holiday on Thursday, so I used it to complete ALL of my Latin work for the rest of the semester (I’m taking the class independently, so she gave me all the work at once), and now I just need to meet with a friend and round things out. That’s satisfying, I must admit.

Also, I’m turning seventeen on Wednesday. To be quite honest, my own birthday is a source of serious stress for me, but I won’t get into why on here. I would just like to bid happy birthday to my twin sister. I love you this crazy amount and you deserve to be happy. So have a seriously marvelous 17th, Emma. (You’ll love the present I got you!)

And now, onto what you actually read me for.

So here’s something that I’m anal about: when I’m finding a book cover, it has to be the exact same cover as was on the physical book that I actually read. This one was frustratingly difficult to find. But everything, even the Washington Post quote, is the same.

So if you go on over to Val’s recommendation’s page and look right to the bottom, you’ll see that Memoirs of a Geisha was, indeed, a Val-recommended book.

Next time I try to put off reading your recommendations, love, just… smack me one, okay? Because you are wise and brilliant and I should always listen to you.

This book was amazing. The story is about a young Japanese girl who, when her mother dies of illness, is sold by her father to an okiya (Geisha house, there’s probably a better word for this but I don’t remember it) to train to become a geisha, to BE a geisha.

The book can pretty much be split into two halves. In the first half, Chiyo tells the story of all of the hardships she faced in becoming a geisha, which included acting as a maid for three years before being permitted to go to incredibly intense lessons. The most difficult obstacle for her to overcome is the domineering presence of a more experienced geisha living in her okiya, Hatsumomo, who is quite honestly the embodiment of a genuinely malicious human being. Hatsumomo is ruthless, clever, and cruel, and from day one, she has something against poor Chiyo.

In the second half of the book, Chiyo (now Sayuri) has become a very beautiful, successful geisha, but she is not entirely happy. This isn’t unexpected; as Mameha, her “older sister” or mentor, said to her, “Women don’t become geisha because they want to; they become geisha because they have no choice.” The life of the geisha is incredibly confining- from rigorous lessons (dancing, playing musical instruments, acting poised and charming, etc.) to late evenings spent entertaining at parties, geisha are very busy women. Their earnings are divided between what they are allowed to keep and what their okiya takes for granted. A successful geisha will take on a danna, which I’m not entirely sure how to define. A wealthy man who agrees to lavish gifts and money upon one geisha, in return that she become his mistress. They will meet several times a week and engage in mistress-y activities, and she will continue on her day-to-day life of entertaining and living lavishly. This also means that geisha are never expected to fall in love. Which is exactly what Sayuri does, the summer she is twelve years old.

Slight, Vague, Unhappy Spoilers

The second half of the book is about Sayuri obsessively stalking the love of her life, despite that fact that he never looks her way twice.

Okay, yes, I’m being harsh. To be clear, though. Sayuri had a fantastically, wonderfully kind man wishing to become her danna, whom she had known and liked for over fifteen years and who clearly loved her, but the thought of being with him was so utterly terrible because it would mean never getting to be with her true love. So she decides that the only way to do this is to crush this poor man’s spirit in the most painful way she can imagine.

End Spoilers

Had to get that off my chest.

Irritation aside, I flipping LOVED this book. Except for the last hundred pages or so. Expect to be unhappy with Sayuri for a time, nearing the end of this book. There are actually several places where she makes choices that really have you slamming your head very hard against the surface of your desk in frustration, but all that means is that you want to read on through that part to see how the issue is resolved.

So, in past reviews I’ve mentioned how much I love culture-shock in novels? I think I should round this out and just say that I love books dealing heavily with foreign culture. This novel, which takes place between 1929 and…. 1960-ish is deeply immersed in this ancient Japanese tradition which, though rarer than ever, still exists today. The thing about culture-shock that I find so interesting to read about is that it takes foreign traditions, which I know nothing about, and puts them on a background I’m incredibly familiar with. It’s so incredibly interesting I could read them forever and be satisfied.

I don’t know what else to say about this book. Val’s said several times that Arthur Golden is a man who writes perfectly in the voice of a woman, and he is. This novel is sympathetic and honest, and as painful as it is enjoyable. It’s very readable, enticing, and gripping. I love it very much and I do recommend it to all.

FOR MY NEXT BOOK. Usually I try to avoid dropping titles during this part of a review, but I can honestly say that my next book will be War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, because it FINALLY came through the mail and I truly can’t wait to start it. It means a lot to me already, and I haven’t even begun it yet.

After that, I have a couple of books on my pile and a few more on Val’s list I hope to get to, but they’re obscure and must be inter-library-loaned to my hands. Which gives me time to read something else in between. See how cleverly this works out?

Published in: on November 15, 2010 at 12:49 am  Comments (4)  
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