Lately, I seem to be reading books that were adapted into movies. If I were to write a review for every book I have read in the last few weeks, this blog would probably turn into a blog consisting of book reviews alone. However, if you are interested in my “humble” opinion of the novels I read, please comment and I will write more reviews.
And now for a list of what I read in the last few weeks:
- The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Magician’s Nephew – C. S Lewis
- Linger – Maggie Stiefvater
- Forever – Maggie Stiefvater
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney
And now… onto the review.
A few weeks ago, I read Arthur Golden’s novel Memoirs of a Geisha published in the year 1997.
Memoirs of a Geisha is about the memories of a girl named Chiyo who is sold to a Geisha house in Gion during The Great Depression. The novel describes her struggles to improve her situation by becoming a Geisha in order to belong in the same world as the man she loves.
For those who have neither read the book or seen the movie, you might be wondering: “what is a Geisha?”
The best definition I can give is this: “a Japanese hostess trained to entertain men with conversation, dance, and song” (Google). Before I read the novel, I had believed that Geisha is another word for prostitute, though that is NOT the case. The direct translation of the word Geisha is “artist” or “performer.”
This book was different from anything I had ever read before. Before I began reading this 400 page novel, I wondered how much would I be able to understand. I have a vague concept of Japanese culture, though not enough to have a firm grasp on Japanese culture prior to World War II. Turns out, I did not need to have any familiarity what’s so ever. The book is written for a Western audience. Golden carefully explains the cultural differences beautifully in a way that can be understood by a Western audience. I had no trouble immersing myself into the beauty of Chiyo/ Sayuri’s words.
For those who are unfamiliar with Japanese culture, especially architecture and dress, I would suggest to look at a few pictures.
When I finished the novel, I was plagued with another concern. I wondered if the depiction of Geisha was accurate. Or had the entire novel been Westernized beyond recognition? Was the manner of speaking and behaving accurate? Had the cultural practices been watered down so much that they were unrecognizable? I suppose I will never know for sure. I did read that for his book, Golden interviewed many Geisha for his novel. In the acknowledgements he cited Mineko Iwasaki as a source. Iwasaki later sued Golden for breach of contract and defamation of character. Later on she released a book titled Geisha, a Life. Her book contrasts with Golden’s as she denounced his book for being a twisted reality. It would be interesting to contrast these two books to see how close Iwasaki’s version matches Golden’s.
With that said, I really enjoyed this book. Golden writes so eloquently, and is able to convince me that Chiyo/ Sayuri is real. Her memories arise out of her mind and flow onto the paper before me in elegant prose. I almost wish that she were real.
If you decide to read Memoirs of a Geisha thinking that it will follow the same format as a fairy tale, then perhaps you should read something else. [Spoiler Alert] Chiyo’s story is more than a Cinderella story with a simple happily ever after. Memoirs of a Geisha tends to follow a more accurate depiction of life. There are happy moments and there are sad moments. Both are equally present from the start till the finish. [End of Spoiler Alert]. Fans of the novel Jane Eyre would probably love this novel. In many ways, this novel is Jane Eyre in a Japanese setting.
Final Grade: A
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For a list of my other book reviews check out my REVIEWS page.