Saturday, May 18, 2013

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

  • Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Classification: Adult Fiction
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction/Historical Fiction
  • Format: Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Large Print (November 15, 2005)
  • ISBN-10: 0739326228
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739326220

“Neither you nor I can know your destiny. You may never know it! Destiny isn't always like a party at the end of the evening. Sometimes it's nothing more than struggling through life from day to day.” 

If you were to ask Chiyo Sakamoto when she turned nine what her destiny was, she would have said it was to be a wife and mother and live out her life in Yoroido. What happened, however, was she met a man that very year who would set off a series of events which set her life on a new path, a new destiny. She was sold and taken to Kyoto where she was  thrust  into the life of a geisha. Her name would change to Sayuri and she would go on to became one of the most renowned, talented, and beautiful Geisha ever to grace the city of Kyoto.  This is her story. 

“Nowadays many people seem to believe their lives are entirely a matter of choice; but in my day we viewed ourselves as pieces of clay that forever show the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them.” 


One of the first things that struck me about this book is Golden's writing style. It is beautiful and almost poetic. This is another book I would say utilizes a style I'd call, for lack of a better term, poetic gesture. Nothing rhymes, but through the repetition of using certain terms/elements, in this case water, over and over in descriptions it almost has the same effect as if it does rhyme.  

From the very beginning, Golden talks of people as having too much of a certain element within their personalities. Chiyo says her fathers had too much wood in his personality which "holds fast to the earth" and allowed him to be grounded to the earth, whereas she and her mother were more like water which "flows from place to place and always finds a crack to spill through." At one point she compares herself to a puddle, "I'm no more a rival to her than a puddle is a rival to the ocean." Then she states, "I'm like a river that has come up against a dam, and that dam is Hatsumomo." To which Mameha responded, "rivers sometimes wash dams away." I love how Golden does this, and it seems to bind the story together.

As the story progresses, we see Chiyo go from someone who wishes to escape from her fate to one resolved to it. We learn why, from the very beginning of the tale, she said the day she met Mr. Tanaka was both the best and worst day of her life. We see first hand the turning point where her resolve turns from despair to determination as she finds something she wants--something to strive for and cling to in the form of hope. We see the steps she must take to become a geisha and what the lifestyle entails. We witness Sayuri's (as she is come to be called)  life, know her most intimate thoughts, desires, hopes, and dreams. We see her at her worst, but more often her best. We see her grow from a clever but weak and defenseless child into a strong, smart, beautiful and vibrant young woman determined to survive. I read somewhere Golden wasn't sure what narrative style he wanted to initially use but finally settled on a first person narrative. I'm so glad he did because it definitely endeared Sayuri to me. 

I watched the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, when it came out years ago, but only remembered bits and pieces of it. When this was voted as one of our books of the month, I hunted down a copy and once again entered Sayuri's world and that of the geisha. It was just as touching and moving as I remembered from when I watched the movie. It is a real tear jerker that seemed at first to have no way of ending happily, but I assure you it does, albeit a bittersweet one. It's not so much a book as it is a journey through the life of an extraordinary woman who would not let even fate determine her destiny and against the odds created her own.  

One of my favorite quotes from the book is the following. It seemed to sum up (as well as use that poetic gesture I was talking about) Sayuri in such a clever way. I love it when authors do this so subtly: 
"Water never waits. It changes shape and flows around things, and finds the secret paths no one else has thought about—the tiny hole through the roof or the bottom of a box. There’s no doubt it’s the most versatile of the five elements. It can wash away earth; it can put out fire; it can wear a piece of metal down and sweep it away. Even wood, which is its natural complement, can’t survive without being nurtured by water."

Overall, I gave this one 5 out of 5 roses. I loved the journey. I loved Sayuri and the bittersweet ending.The story is touching, moving, and a roller coaster of an emotional ride that touched on all of my emotions. I feel this is a story that will hold its appeal for many years to come. If you haven't read it, you surely should. This is one of those books that when you read it, it makes you feel as though you've entered another world, lifetime, and life. A book that makes you think and feel. Love, loss, betrayal, hate, jealousy--almost any emotion you can think of is in there. A truly epic tale and a total and absolute book seduction for me.

Pictures to set the mood for the story. (Pictures found on photobucket):
Pictures of Geishas--notice the necks, at one point Golden states that Japanese men feel the same way about women's neck and throat the way men of the West might feel about a woman's legs. I found that interesting:
 photo japan_overview_2_zps17356a7d.jpg
 photo kyoto-japan-geisha_zps075a470a.jpg
 photo IMG_3360_zpsbe678479.jpg
 photo 13JapanKyototraditionalclothingtagA_zpse14897cd.jpg
 photo IMG_3409_zps5a03da21.jpg Images of Kyoto:
 photo AutumnColorsKyotoJapan_zpsaa4d3bde.jpg  photo Kyoto_26w_zps6f70673b.jpg  photo Japan-Kyoto_zps7eeb7e71.jpg  photo 63b0_zpsbef17184.jpg  photo c215re2_zps70dd528a.jpg  photo a767re2_zpsd515ebd4.jpg  photo d33ed633_zpsaed1b359.jpg Examples of geisha dance/theater:
 photo AkinoIrokusaconfirmed_zps7e05b10f.jpg
 photo Geishadance_zps2cfe4574.jpg  photo CIMG0702_zps5ac057ee.jpg  photo IMG_1749_zpscf7a30d6.jpg  photo IMG_1744_zpsf5e8efa0.jpg  photo IMG_1742_zps0b742913.jpg
Pictures of sumo wrestling (I tried to pick the ones that seemed the most tasteful):
 photo sumo_zpsd5aa4abf.gif
 photo b616_zps4e46e2e1.jpg  photo e8db_zpse5f16d19.jpg
Couldn't let the comments about the shoes go by--These just don't look very comfortable.:
 photo LiftHerSkirt_zps902d1d4c.png  photo TokyoKyototrip137_zps0de7bc5b.jpg

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