Thursday, January 19, 2012

Memoirs of a Geisha

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden
List: #62 on BBC Top 100
Worth Reading? Yes!!

I read this book several years ago, really enjoyed it, and would heartily recommend it. However, it has been too long since I read it for me to write a coherent post, so I asked Scott to write a guest post:

I first read Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005 prior to the release of the movie adaptation. When I decided to re-read it, Natalie asked me to write a guest blog and I happily agreed. If you are not familiar with the plot, this book is about a young girl from a small fishing village in Japan who is sent away to Kyoto to become a geisha. I love this book for many reasons but I would recommend reading it for two.

The story begins in the years leading up to World War Two, in the geisha district of Kyoto. In an age where a society is straddling two identities, one firmly set in tradition and one marching onward into the future, the author is able to effortlessly transport the reader back in time. I have no desire to visit the sprawling cities of Japan today, but when I read Golden’s description of the tea houses and ceremonies, the geisha’s kimonos and superstitions, it is sometimes hard for me to remember that the setting he is describing no longer exists. These descriptions make me long to be able to visit the unspoiled, exotic locations of the book, even though that would require time travel.

At the same time, this book has a foreboding shadow hanging over much of the story. The narrator, Chiyo, is very honest about the time period. As the years pass, peace erodes for the Japanese as the Empire invades China and attacks Pearl Harbor, and as the war in the Pacific proceeds. And although many of these events aren’t told by the characters, in my mind at least the peacefulness presented is somewhat tainted by the knowledge that these events are occurring in history. It is like waiting in the calm before a storm: you want to relax and let your guard down, but you know that something dangerous is lurking around the corner.

The second reason I would recommend reading this book is because of the prose used by the characters. Describing a scene in the geisha district, the main character says, “Among the men in Western style business suits and kimono, several geisha stood out in brilliant coloring just like autumn leaves on the murky water of the river.” This book is full of these little tidbits, each of them conveying the scene perfectly from the perspective of this young uneducated girl who is experiencing life fully.

Some might describe this as a romance novel, or a love story, but I would describe it as a story of growth, exploration, and learning. And I would highly recommend it to anyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment