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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Reason for Reading: IRL Bookclub
Rating: 4/5

Memoirs of a Geisha is a lyrical and intoxicating peek inside an exotic world where woman who are not quite prostitutes entertain Japan's most powerful men. Sayuri, the main character, grows up in a poor fishing village but at the age of nine is sold into servitude at an okiya, a geisha house.

Life in the okiya is far from easy. Far from her parents or her sister, Sayuri must contend with the bitter jealousy of another geisha, Hatsumomo, a cold and calculating okiya owner, and long days of chores with little food. One day, Sayuri finds herself crying in the street when she meets the man who changes her life, the Chairman. He shows her kindness by giving her a coin to buy the first sorbet she's ever had in her life. That day, she falls in love and determines that she will become a geisha so that she can be a part of his life.

This book completely grabbed my attention. I was drawn in by the delicate, lyrical writing, the setting and the details. Somehow Golden manages to teach about a vastly different world without ever seeming to inundate the reader with historical facts. I was especially interested to learn, for example, that the elaborate hairstyles that the geisha wore were so expensive and time-consuming that they only went to the stylist once a week or so. To preserve the style the rest of the week, they slept with their neck elevated on a special pillow.

The only reason I rated this lower than five out of five is because I found my dissatisfied by the ending. Sayuri spends her entire life wishing she could be with the Chairman, but we see hardly anything of him throughout the book. Instead the male character Sayuri spends the most time with is Nobu, the Chairman's business partner. Nobu loves her, and in fact protects her when Japan goes to war, but Sayuri yearns to spurn his affections. I kept waiting for a particular ending to this threesome, but it went a different (and in my opinion rather saccharine) direction.

Should I read it? Do you like good writing? Then yes.


Literary Feline said...

I really enjoyed this book as well, and, like you, found the ending less than satisfying for much the same reasons you did. I hadn't known much about the Geisha lifestyle before this book, but it did encourage me to do a little research on it after finishing the book. Great review, Kim!

Marg said...

I enjoyed this book when I read it. I was totally engrossed in it, but then I didn't give it a higher grade than you did. I think the ending probably did that for me as well.

Amy said...

I love this book so much!! I have to admit after reading it I tried to find every book I could on geisha!

jessi said...

I really enjoyed this book as well - and I also described the writing as "lyrical." :) Have you seen the movie? It's in my Netflix queue. I'm curious to see how closely it follows the book.

Rhinoa said...

I had the same comments as you after reading this. I loved it (the film is beautiful too and well worth watching), except for the ending. It was so typcial Hollywood somehow and it left me with a downer.