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Memoirs of a Geisha


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Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - 1997

 

Rescued Thread:

 

megustaleer 23rd March 2006 07:52 AM

Memoirs of a Geisha

 

I had a day's leave from work yesterday; I spent the whole of it reading one book.

It was the first time that I have done that for years. I have read lots of enjoyable books in that time, but none that have kept me turning the pages all day.

Here is a synopsis of Arthur Golden's novel (filched from Amazon)

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Quote:

A seductive and evocative epic on an intimate scale, that tells the extraordinary story of a geisha girl. Summoning up more than twenty years of Japan's most dramatic history, it uncovers a hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. From a small fishing village in 1929, the tale moves to the glamorous and decadent heart of Kyoto in the 1930s, where 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; it exquisitely evokes another culture, a different time and the details of an extraordinary way of life. It conjures 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 most powerful men.

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Doesn't sound all that beguiling, does it?

What the synopsis doesn't do is reveal how much the story of this little girl, sold by her father while her mother lies dying and taken away to she-knows-not-where, tugs at your heart strings. Nothing is explained to her, she's not even lied to, so she has to interpret everything that happens and try to make sense of it.

Bless her, her hopes and expectations are wide of the mark, but the reader, wiser in the ways of the world, can see what is going on and feels for her bewilderment and distress.

Her fortunes ebb and flow, but she never experiences real freedom again.

 

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Starry 23rd March 2006 09:08 AM

 

I love this book, it is one of my favourites. It's one of those fantastic combinations of wonderful characters and compelling plot. I listened to it on audiobook and Sayuri's voice shone through, unique and interesting, which I may not have experienced in the same way if I had read the book, and the story stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

 

As usual when I've loved a book as much as this one I have difficulty expressing why I liked it so much. So a short reply, but I would recommend it to anyone.

 

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Seraphina 23rd March 2006 11:57 AM

I also loved this book. I have read it several times and it has stood up to re-reading. I found the accounts of a Geisha's life fascinating, how close to the truth it is I don’t know, but it made an excellent story!

 

I thought the juxtaposition between Sayuri’s innocence and the seediness of the industry in which she worked was very effective. It emphasised to me the sadness of the life the Geisha led, although to an outsider it perhaps looks like a colourful, enjoyable life of socialising and entertaining.

It also emphasised the lack of freedom experienced by women in Japan at that time. Although Sayuri ends up as the Chairman’s mistress, she is never promoted to status as his wife, and is therefore always in the situation of depending on someone who could remove their support at any time. I thought this was indicative of the situation for most women at the time, whether they were Geisha or not. It is perhaps shocking for Western women to read this and realise just how restricted women in the East actually were (or are). I believe (although I may be wrong) that this was an accepted way of life for the Japanese until relatively recently, and it is shocking to us as people do not usually see beneath the colourful exterior.

The rivalry between Sayuri and (argh I can’t remember her name, but you know who I mean – the evil one! Can’t check as I’m at work) was effective as well. I thought it was interesting the way the women competed with each other, almost as if it was a sport, when really they were competing for a (relatively) better life. I actually felt sorry for (the evil one whose name I can’t remember). I seem to remember she had a boyfriend at one point who she obviously had to keep secret. She was also getting older and probably felt extremely bitter that she was not allowed to pursue her own goals, not allowed to fall in love. Taking this out on Sayuri was obviously the wrong thing to do, but when you consider the life she’s had at least you can gain some understanding of why she has become the way she has, even if you can’t exactly condone it.

Sayuri is almost lucky as at least she gets to be the mistress of the man she loves, but in reality I do think it is arguable whether she is actually in a much better situation than (the evil one).

The novel made me think of some Japanese prints I studied 2-3 years ago when part of my Art History course covered Japanese art. They were of Geisha but they were really sad, and showed more of the feelings of the women themselves and less of the colour and verve of the surface lifestyle. The artist’s name escapes me (my memory is terrible today!) but I will have a look at home later.

 

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megustaleer 23rd March 2006 12:26 PM

 

Seraphina, please 'spoiler' that second paragraph, and the reference to it further down! That would have ruined the book for me if I'd read about it in advance.

 

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Seraphina 23rd March 2006 12:39 PM

 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by megustaleer

Seraphina, please 'spoiler' that second paragraph, and the reference to it further down! That would have ruined the book for me if I'd read about it in advance.

***

 

oops sorry had meant to but posted quickly without thinking as a whole pile of stuff landed on my desk! spoilered now....

 

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Momo 23rd March 2006 09:27 PM

 

I have read this book twice - once with my previous book club, again with my present one. The first time, I liked the book but didn't think I would read it again. The second time, I enjoyed it much more. After discussing it at the meeting, I found it even more interesting.

This book shows the difference of Eastern and Western culture as well as the changes in society during the couple of decades. There was so much to discuss, this book just contains so many different ideas. It is definitely worth (re-)reading.

 

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supersexy007 25th March 2006 09:35 PM

 

I read this book quite a while ago and couldn't put it down! I found it extremely sad and quite shocking in places (ie the "misuage part") I won't go into details as I don't know how to "spoiler" something and don't want to give the story away to anyone who has read it, but those who have read it already will know what I mean! I also found it sad that Sayuri's happy ending was actually quite belittling when you think about it. A great book. I have to say, I found the recent film disppointing though.

 

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Momo 25th March 2006 09:41 PM

 

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Quote:

Originally by supersexy007

I won't go into details as I don't know how to "spoiler" something ...

***

 

It's quite easy, actually, once you know how it works. You can find

bookgrouponline's thread here.

 

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ange 5th June 2006 10:34 PM

 

I am now on my 5th copy of this book. I bought it when it was very first published here in England. I didn't think I would enjoy it, but I thought it was the best book ever printed. The way the geisha's world are explained, the descriptions, the sheet beauty of the story. There is nothing I dislike. A true diamond of a book.

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  • 1 month later...

I've just finished this book and also enjoyed it. However, I did find the writing style a little 'matter of fact', but the subject matter was really interesting. I felt so sad for the Geisha girls, that many of them had no other choice but to be the entertainers of men.

 

And Hatsumomo was just horrid!

 

All in all, despite the writing style, I did like this book a lot. It was a great insight into the life of a geisha.

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I can't believe I didn't post on this thread originally, as Memoirs has been in my Top 10 reads for a number of years now. It is so evocative and I definitely see it in reds and whites.

 

While I thought the film last year was visually stunning, it lost so much of the quality of the book.

 

I have always wanted to read more about Geisha's and, thanks to donnae's recommendation in the biography forum, I have Geisha of Gion on Mount TBR. I'm really looking forward to comparing Arther Golden's take on geisha's to the story as seen from the inside.

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I too found the topic of Geishas fascinating. Golden also mentions in the acknowledgements section at the end a book by the only American woman to work as a Geisha, but rather unhelpfully I can;t remember the name of it and the book is at my parents' house.... :confused:

 

The book you are thinking of is Geisha by Liza Dalby. Yet another one in my Mt. TBR - I will read it one day!

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  • 1 year later...

I enjoyed this book - but I think it was more for the way it evoked such an alien, unknown culture, rather than for the actual story. I loved exploring the details of how Geishas trained and lived. That was so fascinating that it rather overshadowed the plot and characters.

 

I was grumpy about the ending though.

 

 

I was hoping that Sayuri would be honourable enough not to betray the man who had been such a loyal friend to her. It weakened her character in my eyes, that she betrayed him by having sex with the Minister, in order to stand a chance at a relationship with someone else. Even more so, as she had made a bit of a theme, earlier in the book, of weighing up whether she was going to use people, as Mother and Hatsumomo did, or whether she was going to retain her integrity.

 

 

I'd be interested to know what other people thought of the ending. Did her chance at 'true love' outweigh all other considerations?

 

From the point of view of wanting to understand the culture more, I'd have loved it if the final chapter, in America, had included Suriya's reflections on western culture and entertaining. It may not have added much to the arc of the story, but it would have been very interesting!

 

I'd definitely recommend this as an interesting read.

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  • 4 weeks later...

It must have been two or three years ago I read this book now, and I'd really like to re-read it. I found it really hard to put down. All the cultural information was really interesting, and I was also really interested in the characters. It was really sad at times, and to be honest, books don't often have that effect on me. I think I should definitely re-read it in fact, going by what everyone else has been saying here. Just wish I had my own copy, I borrowed it from a friend. I also saw Geisha in the library the other day, and was sorely tempted, so will go and look for that again sometime.

 

With regards to the end, (and this is where I think I need to read it again!), I'm not quite sure whether or not I think that it was really necessary. On the one hand, I can see how she thought it was necessary, and you can tell she is not flippant about it in any way. But then on the other hand you wonder if she would have even considered this option if she had seen such a situation from her old perspective.

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  • 10 months later...
But like Claire I really didnt like the end.

 

That's so strange because I remember liking the end but I can't think why...

 

I might be thinking of this bit just before the ending perhaps...

 

This book is one of about 12 that sit on my favourite reads of all time, nearly all of them will be read again at some point. This will be no exception.

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  • 5 months later...
  • 1 month later...

I've just finished it and I agree with what has been said about the ending, she didn't make such a fuss with the general became her danna, but with Nobu it was the end of the world and all her dreams. I did feel sorry for him

and the chairman was married with kids! Was Nobu? I don't think he was.

 

I wanted to slap Mr Tanaka, I hope Sayuri would have the opportunity at some point.

 

I also noticed how basically nothing was said about the dropping of the atomic bombs and all the characters were made to seem welcoming to the "friendly" American soldiers. Maybe they were, but I can't help feeling there would have been some anger there after what happened. I know Japan did terrible things but...

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