Monday, September 27, 2010
'Memoirs of a Geisha- Review
Publisher: Random House
Length: 428 Pages
Opening Line: 'Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that happened a long while ago, and I said to you, "That afternoon when I met so-and-so...was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon."
Regular readers of the blog will know that I have raved about 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden, for a long while. So after a few years of reading this novel , I decided to give it a re-read to see if lived up to the last time.
'Memoirs of a Geisha' tells the story of Chiyo, a girl who lives in a 'tipsy house' with her sister Satsu, her father and ailing mother in a small fishing village called Yoroido, on the sea of Japan. Life is difficult for Chiyo and her poor family, so when her mother is on the brink of death, Chiyo's father decides to sell his daughters to a man named Mr Tanaka and Chiyo's life changes forever.
Chiyo is separated from her sister and taken to a okiya in Gion, with the purpose of eventually becoming a geisha. However, before she can earn the right to take lessons in dance, music and tea ceremony at the local school for Geishas, Chiyo has to endure hard work and brutal treatment by 'Auntie' and 'Granny', the two women who run the Okiya.
As if it wasn't enough, Chiyo has to live with Hatsumomo the chief Geisha, whose bullying and manipulating nature often gets Chiyo into trouble and even more debt, with Granny and Mother.
After finding her sister working as a prostitute in a nearby brothel, Chiyo attempts to run away with Satsu. Unfortunately, Chiyo ends up falling from the roof of a neighbouring Okiya and she breaks her arm, so Chiyo loses her sister forever. With no where to go, Chiyo is forced to return to the Okiya.
However things take a turn for the better, as a chance meeting with a man Chiyo calls 'The Chairman', changes Chiyo's perspective on the life that she has been cruelly thrust upon her. She becomes determined to become the best geisha she can be in the hope that one day, she will meet 'The Chairman' once again.
Through pure determination, Chiyo proves herself as a apprentice geisha and when she becomes a fully fledged geisha, she takes on the name of 'Sayuri'.
This takes the story onto Sayuri's quest to find the chairman and for Mameha, her 'sister' (a sort of geisha mentor) and her to rid Gion of the cruelty of Hatsumomo.
I probably haven't described this book as well as I could have, as there is a lot more to the story than that, but that is briefly what the novel is about.
However what I can say about this book, is that it is exquisite. The writing is poetic and I absolutely love the 'first person' perspective in this book. It's almost as if Sayuri is talking direct to the reader, which is, in my opinion, the best way to draw anyone into a story.
In fact when I was reading this, it was difficult to believe that this novel has been written by a man because, and I know this may sound a little sexist, but this novel had the 'voice' of a woman. I felt that the tone of this novel is so convincing, that it's like Sayuri herself is telling you her story.
Also what adds to the authenticity of the novel, is the detail that Arthur Golden goes into when talking about the traditions of Geisha. This novel almost reads as an 'A-Z of Geisha Tradition' and I found this element fascinating.
The plot is compelling, well balanced and I love the juxtaposition between the facade of beauty that the outside life of a geisha portrays and the brutal, cruel world that Sayuri experiences, inside the confines of her Okiya.
This novel is beautiful, sensual and absorbing. It's not often that I write a book review without pointing out some of the novel's faults but as hard as I tried, I couldn't find any.
So, if you want to be swept up in a story of beauty, culture and fantastic storytelling, I would definitely recommend this novel.
On another note, since reading 'Memoirs of a Geisha', I haven't heard of any other work by Arthur Golden. Does anyone know of any other Arthur Golden novels?