"Memoirs of a Geisha"
Publisher’s Synopsis: Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it.
The Review: “Memoirs of a Geisha” a subtly romantic story told in the exotic setting of pre-WWII Japan. The story is told in a first-person narrative by Sayuri, an elderly woman recounting her youth as a geisha. Although a work of fiction, the main character is a very engaging story-teller and it’s easy to imagine her as a real person sitting across a table and speaking directly to you. I was truly amazed that the author was able to create a character with all the subtle nuances and humor of a Japanese woman (the way Sayuri speaks reminds me of my grandma who is also a Japanese woman born around the same time). More than anything else, Sayuri is a likable character who certainly knows how to keep her audience interested!
At first it seemed as though the book was simply offering a snapshot of life in Japan, especially the contrast of scratching out a living in a small fishing village compared to the competitiveness in a town based on entertainment and pleasure, also the contrast pre and post war. As the story progressed I had the nagging sensation of familiarity… and then I realized that I was reading a sort of Cinderella story! The more I thought about it, the more it became obvious; the little girl at the bottom of the pecking order who is forced to do chores in the geisha house, the money-obsessed step-mother who only cares for her favorite daughter, the evil step-sisters who make her life hell, the fairy god-mother who transforms her into a beautiful creature, and prince charming who is the answer to her happily ever after.
Overall, I felt this book was expertly written but I was still just a little disappointed. It felt like something was missing which could have made it an excellent book, not just a good one. However, it wasn’t until the last chapter that a final layer was added which, once revealed, I realized was the missing piece to the puzzle. That missing piece helped take the story to a deeper level that was reminiscent of the bittersweet ending of “The Diary of Anne Frank” or “Forrest Gump.” It was a beautiful and poignant way to end such a mesmerizing story.
Truly, it’s the details that make the story come alive. And although I’m no stranger to Japanese culture, I was still intrigued by all the details that were explained like food, architecture, dance, etc. All these details made it very easy to become absorbed in a different time and place. I can also imagine that readers not familiar with the culture would enjoy the added novelty of certain “bizarre” things like eating whale meat or the concept of honorable suicide. An excellent book if you’re looking for a bit of escapism.
Final Verdict: Loved It
"Memoirs of a Geisha" was reviewed on October 11, 2010 | No Comments