Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memoirs of a Geisha

by Arthur Golden

This is a wonderful book! I absolutely loved reading "Memoirs of a Geisha," I couldn't put it down!

What a I especially love about "Memoirs" is that it reads like a culture-study. The books is extremely well researched, without feeling tedious, and authentic. Golden immediately emerges the reader in Japanese culture, and it only gets better from there. Everything about this book is enrapturing. It is a wonderful complex story to get lost in.

Sayuri's life was such a captivating mixture of tragedy and elation. Well, elation may be a bit strong a word. After being sold from her family, Chiyo/Sayuri endured torture at the hands of Hatsumomo and looked as if life would end with her being a maid forever. But through unexpected turns of good luck, Sayuri manages to become a geisha. There is something innately alluring about the mention of "geisha." They're exotic and exquisite and reading about one was like taking a peek into some kind of exclusive, elite world. (Though now I would like to read a book from the perspective of a wife and a maid at the time and see how much they enjoyed their lives compared to Sayuri.)

Frankly, I didn't care too much for the love-story aspect of the book. I thought Sayuri's initial reaction to the Chairman was like a schoolgirl crush on the knight-in-shining-armor/pseudo father figure. It seemed a little ridiculous how obsessed with him she became. I suppose that's why the New York Times referred to the romance as "Dickensian."

Sadly, I found the last few chapters to be a disappointment. I cannot believe what Sayuri wanted to do to Nobu after he showed her so much kindness and truly she owed him her life. Then she unexpectedly learns that the Chairman has been the driving force and savior of her life ever since she first met him, without her knowledge, and now the can live happily ever after because he's been secretly in love with her too? Please. That was much too neat and tidy and unrealistically convenient. It felt like a cop-out. Sayuri absolutely deserved a happy ending, but not the way Golden crafted it. The plot and the whole atmosphere of the book was so well executed up to that point, it was like letting air out of a balloon.

That's the other thing I really liked about the book: it's poetry. The story is full of beautiful metaphors, which felt like a very Japanese touch, to me. Also I liked the way it did read like a true dictation of a geisha's life.

I know the book looks long, but it is well worth the effort, and once you're in it, reading it won't feel like effort.

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