Friday, December 24, 2010

Book Review 1: Memoirs of A Geisha by Arthur Golden

Title: Memoirs of A Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publishing Date: 1999
Publisher: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

ISBN: 1-4000-9689-8
Price: $10.20 on
Summary: "In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan's most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.

We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child's unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha's elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O'Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work - suspenseful, and utterly persuasive."

My Review:
I'll admit, I chose Memoirs of A Geisha as my first book because I knew it was going to be an easy read (and, of course, because I already had it on my bookshelf). I read this book first at the age of 15, possibly even at 16, I'm not entirely positive. I could relate to the narrator, Sayuri, only a bit. While I was around her age, going through some of the same emotions that she may have been going through, you know those teenage emotions :), I didn't understand the depth and the emotion of the novel.

This time around, I am 20 (almost 21! yay!). I've experienced life. I've experienced leaving my home, I've experienced the death of a loved one, I've experienced true disappointment. At this point in my life, I was able to connect with the book as I never could have as a girl of only 15. I better understood why Sayuri did the things she did. I could relate to the pain she must have felt when she got word that (SPOILER ALERT) her parents had passed away. Sayuri's emotions were my emotions. Heck, I even dreamed that I WAS Sayuri (how cool would it be to be a geisha though?).

Arthur Golden did an amazing job of portraying the life of geisha in the early-middle 20th century. From the first page, Sayuri's voice is strong and clear, a voice that needs to be heard. The character of Sayuri is well developed, her background is simple and her future is impressive. With the character of Sayuri, it is possible for a girl to imagine herself in the character. To come from such a simple, even a poor, background and then to grow into a beautiful, charming woman is a dream that I myself have had many times.

Chiyo (Sayuri's given name at birth) was taken from her seaside home at the age of just nine, leaving behind a dying mother and an old father. She was then separated from her sister and was sent to live in a okiya in the Kyoto district of Gion. She doesn't know it at the time, but she is going to be trained to be a geisha. Geisha, despite the western view of the word, means artist, "gei" literally meaning "art" and "sha" meaning "person" or "doer".  Girls hoping to become geisha study dance, music (on the shamisen which is a type of guitar and on the drums), and the tea ceremony, as well as more traditional studies like reading and writing. 

Chiyo goes through many hardships before becoming the geisha Sayuri. In fact, she racks up so much debt at a young age that Mother (the owner of the Okiya in which Sayuri lives), actually stops her training for some time. Thankfully she has a few people watching out for her and Mameha, one of the most beautiful and successful geisha of the time, offers to be Chiyo's "big sister" and to basically show her the ropes of being a geisha.

The book tells Sayuri's stories of her life as a geisha, and what a full life she has lived! According to the book, Sayuri is also one of the most successful geisha of that type. Perhaps because of the peculiar color of her eyes. Sayuri has blue/grey eyes, something which is uncommon for the people of Japan.

The book is exquisite and marvelous. The way that Golden describes the world of the Geisha is breathtaking, I felt like I was actually there. I wished that I was walking through the streets of Kyoto with Sayuri by my side teaching me how to be a geisha. The characters were all well developed and I feel like I got to know each character personally. I took quite a liking to Nobu, one of Sayuri's suitors. It's one of those books that you just can't seem to put down. In fact, I dreaded going to bed at night because I just did not want to leave my dear friends.

This book is definitely recommended reading. It's easy to read, it's beautifully written and it's also educational! I don't often see that combination in books of this sort, but it was wonderful. If you love learning about other cultures, then this book is definitely for you, especially because it's written from the perspective of someone who has lived the life and knows what they're talking about. Arthur Golden did an excellent job of researching and studying for this book. 

Amazon's Customer Reviews has given this book 5 out 5 stars, and I do too!

Overall Impression:

I give his book 5 stars out of 5. It is well written and Golden did a great job of researching the lives of geisha during the early-mid 20th century. It was hard to put down and I'm actually sad that I'm done reading it. I honestly feel that I've lost a friend. The character of Sayuri is one that is easily relatable. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone who just loves a good read!

What did you think? Have you read Memoirs of A Geisha by Arthur Golden? If you have, I'd love to hear your opinion on the book! Did you love it or was it just a little to "blah" for your tastes? Let me know by simply leaving a comment on this post! I'd love to talk about the book with you!

I hope that you all get lots and lots of books this Christmas!

P.S. Since this is my first book review, I'd like to ask a favor of all those who read it. If you can, please leave some feedback about how you think I did with the review itself.Too long? Too short? Not enough information? I'd really like your comments and suggestions! Thank you!

1 comment:

Sara said...

The review was great! I would maybe go a little shorter next time though. I read this one a few years ago and I remember thinking that the culture was fascinating, but the book itself was not my favorite. Of course, I can't remember why now... stupid mommy brain. ;)

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