Jun 18, 2010

Nostalgic Friday: Memoirs of a Geisha

Welcome back to Nostalgic Friday! Since I love all things historical (culturally, physically, and personally) I do a post on Fridays honoring some awesome book that is a bit older. Many of them are books I enjoyed in my teens and others are books that I discovered as an adult that I think are relevant to YA readers.

I can't believe I didn't think to cover this book earlier, but Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden trulyMemoirs of a Geisha is a magnificent work of real-life meeting fiction. This was not a novel written with just a few years research and a lot of conjecture, Golden was fascinated by the Japanese people so much that his B.A. in Art History focused on Japanese art and one of his M.A.s is in Japanese history. The whole novel took him 10 years to write while he interviewed many geisha, including the famous Mineko Iwasaki, and studied the art form. The result was this:

Chiyo Sakamoto is one of two daughters sold into servitude by a poor fisherman in the hopes of raising enough money to save his dying wife in 1929 rural Japan. At first the sisters are kept together, but eventually they are sold into separate okiyas (geisha houses). Chiyo is working off her purchase cost, but continues to add debt to her bill when she tries to please the lead geisha Hatsumomo (by destroying a rival's expensive kimono) and when she is severely injured while trying to run away.

After a chance meeting with Chairman Iwamura Ken, Chiyo decides that she no longer wants to live in fear of never surmounting her debt: she wants to be a beautiful geisha. Chiyo gets to continue her geisha training with one of the most powerful geisha, Mameha, and takes her apprentice geisha name of Sayuri. At her debut, a bidding war begins for her mizuage (virginity), fetching the highest price in memory and buying off her debt. The okiya that Sayuri has slaved in for years is now here's when the current owner dies.

As the years progress, there are tensions that come and go with the pressure of geisha life. There are parties to attend, ceremonies to observe, rival geisha to avoid, & a distinct lack of romantic love. When World War II breaks out, everyone's lives are irrevocably changed. Some for the better and some not.

This was an incredible story based in years of research, observation, and interviews. It's plausible that this story could have happened. Arthur Golden's writing style is evocative of the beauty that exists in this society & cultural. Many people see geisha as trapped women with no personalities; Arthur explores the reality of what it would have been like to be raised in a culture that admires the hard work and dedication these women possess in order to manipulate their clientele. The clients weren't paying for sex, they were paying for the experience of an entertaining force.

Of all the geisha mentioned in the book, I think my favorite has got to be Mameha. She is a tough geisha with a kind heart. I would compare her to a high-powered female attorney, she knows her stuff and knows how to make people work in her benefit. Chiyo/Sayuri is an amazing person as well considering we watch her grow from scrawny, adolescent child into a strong, powerful woman. She never really seems to boast about her accomplishments and really only wants to live a simple life, but she has a grace about her that can only come from within.

The language in this book is another thing that drew me to it. I really enjoy a book that properly uses words in another language in a contextually appropriate way. Frivolously throwing out words is useless. All the language used in this book had purpose and meaning. Truly amazing! While it can seem cumbersome, once I got lost in the story, I tore right through the whole book. The 2005 movie adaption really captured the visual side of the story. Check it out if you've never seen it, but only after you read the book! :)

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