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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This is fiction, but written as a biography of a Japenese woman (Sayuri), who as a young child (Chiyo) was sent to the city for training to become a geisha. One of the first descriptions in the book is of her eyes .. they are grey, almost without color. Which is taken to mean that her personality is like that of water, which is flexible and able to adjust to anything. (Her father is like wood .. slow and steady and unchangeable). Which turns out to be very important for her survival, that she can adjust and make do and find ways to move around obstacles -- as well as her eyes, which are memorable and beautiful and attract attention. On her lowest day, she sits down to cry and a nice man comes to her and talks to her (which is basically unheard of in this society, and even gives her his handkerchief. He becomes a symbol to her of hope, and as things begin to happen well for her (there is a shift in many things which happens fairly quickly), she always has a dream that she will see this man and be able to thank him. In fact, he becomes her ideal in every way. She runs into him early on in her career, but circumstances are such that she cannot pay him much attention, and this causes her fairly constant worry and wonder and hope and doubt.

The world that this young girl is thrown into is harsh. She is the lowest person in the household that she is part of and must listen to and obey orders from all those above her (4 main people, plus other servants). Everything familiar is taken away from her .. parents and even her sister, and she is left to fend for herself and find new reasons to live and dreams to keep. Geisha have to be very good at what they do .. entertaining men. They are somewhat related to prostitutes, but they have to learn many more things and are a valued part of their society. They must learn dancing, singing, instruments, the tea ceremony, how to dress properly, how to wear their makeup, and how to be in conversation with men in such a way they are entertained -- knowing what can entice and just how far to push things. The lessons and way they are prepared for their life includes strict punishment, strict rules, an apprenticeship to an older geisha, and a learning how to compartmentalize life in such a way that they can survive what they do each day and evening. Sayuri does remarkably well .. at first she cannot adjust and almost is sent away to a hopeless life (in many ways), but through a few circumstances (namely the Chairman and Mameha, a successful geisha who took her under her wing), she becomes successful and eventually leads a life that she enjoys.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book that so many people have read and that became a movie, but it was well worth my time. A good story, with any number of phrases and ideas that I sat and savored. Also managed to get a few stares and odd looks as people read the title, but that's alright .. a good book is worth a bit of trouble. As with another book I read recently, I learned about culture and values as well as enjoying the story, causing me to wonder about the values and traditions of my own culture. Some are worth keeping, and others .. could use a bit of challenging.

Title:Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden
Date published:1997
Genre: Historical Fiction
Number of pages: 493
Notes: Read in a few days (traveling to Turkey!)


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