Memoirs Of A Geisha

October 14, 2019 - Comment

This story is a rare and utterly engaging experience. It tells the extraordinary story of a geisha -summoning up a quarter century from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan’s dramatic history, and opening a window into a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. A young peasant girl is sold as servant

This story is a rare and utterly engaging experience. It tells the extraordinary story of a geisha -summoning up a quarter century from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan’s dramatic history, and opening a window into a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. A young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house., She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Her memoirs conjure up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of geisha – dancing and singing, how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the land’s most powerful men.According to Arthur Golden’s absorbing first novel, the word “geisha” does not mean “prostitute,” as Westerners ignorantly assume–it means “artisan” or “artist.” To capture the geisha experience in the art of fiction, Golden trained as long and hard as any geisha who must master the arts of music, dance, clever conversation, crafty battle with rival beauties and cunning seduction of wealthy patrons. After earning degrees in Japanese art and history from Harvard and Columbia–and an M.A. in English–he met a man in Tokyo who was the illegitimate offspring of a renowned businessman and a geisha. This meeting inspired Golden to spend 10 years researching every detail of geisha culture, chiefly relying on the geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who spent years charming the very rich and famous.

The result is a novel with the broad social canvas (and love of coincidence) of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen’s intense attention to the nuances of erotic maneuvering. Readers experience the entire life of a geisha, from her origins as an orphaned fishing-village girl in 1929 to her triumphant auction of her mizuage (virginity) for a record price as a teenager to her reminiscent old age as the distinguished mistress of the powerful patron of her dreams. We discover that a geisha is more analogous to a Western “trophy wife” than to a prostitute–and, as in Austen, flat-out prostitution and early death is a woman’s alternative to the repressive, arcane system of courtship. In simple, elegant prose, Golden puts us right in the tearoom with the geisha; we are there as she gracefully fights for her life in a social situation where careers are made or destroyed by a witticism, a too-revealing (or not revealing enough) glimpse of flesh under the kimono, or a vicious rumour spread by a rival “as cruel as a spider.”

Golden’s web is finely woven, but his book has a serious flaw: the geisha’s true romance rings hollow–the love of her life is a symbol, not a character. Her villainous geisha nemesis is sharply drawn, but she would be more so if we got a deeper peek into the cause of her motiveless malignity–the plight all geisha share. Still, Golden has won the triple crown of fiction: he has created a plausible female protagonist in a vivid, now-vanished world and he gloriously captures Japanese culture by expressing his thoughts in authentic Eastern metaphors.

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Comments

Anonymous says:

One of my favourite books ever. One of my favourite books ever. I’m always so jealous of people who are just reading it for the first time. It’s not a book that I’d normally choose, but I joined a book club, so was forced to, but I’m so glad I did. It’s not often that I find a book that I ‘can’t put down’, but I literally couldn’t. I’d still be reading it at about 3am, falling asleep over my kindle! The writing is just exceptional too, it’s written in a way that made me completely shocked that it wasn’t a true story. Before I…

Anonymous says:

A Perfect Novel Memoirs Of A Geisha has always been among my favourite novels. It’s a sweeping, romantic epic with richly drawn, believable characters and a hugely satisyfying narrative arc.It’s a novel which, once read, will stay with you forever – so vivid is the writing and characterisation.A must read.

Anonymous says:

Now I understand… Have just finished this book, having read it years after it was first published. When it came out it appeared everyone was reading it, now I understand why. It’s a compelling story, and very character rich. It speaks of a bygone era and a bygone mindset. I have always been interested in Japanese culture, so I felt sure this book would appeal. It’s a tale of someone turning their life round from the most inauspicious of beginnings, as well as understanding how they arrived at contentment. An…

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