You see when I was young, I truly wanted to be an Asian. I wished I was born in the Asian world. I mean their world just seemed perfect. They had the most flawless of skin I have ever seen, their bodies are perfect. like drop dead perfect. They never add weight! at all. no matter how many carbs they seem to consume, save for the sumo wrestlers, and please don’t get me started on their flat stomachs, their agility and gracefulness, and their food! otherwise we could be here all year!
It is this fanaticism that led me to pick the book, “Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden, a book that quickly transported me to a world I had always dreamed of, a world of beauty and perfection.
Two pages later, I was crushed, heart broken, and overly attached to the character Chiyo.
You see, Chiyo and her older sister, Satsu, are the daughters of a fisherman from a little town on the Sea of Japan. During the depression years between the two world wars, the family falls on hard times and the girls are sold into slavery, taken to Kyoto to become, if they are lucky, artistically accomplished, highly paid teahouse entertainers. But pudgy Satsu is very unlucky, and she winds up as a prostitute in a low brothel, from which she escapes early in the book, never to appear again. On the other hand, Chiyo soon sheds her ugly-duckling status to achieve a swanlike beauty. Drawn by her bewitching eyes, men begin falling in love with her even before she takes her new name, Sayuri, symbolizing her metamorphosis into a professional geisha.
Chiyo is placed in an okiya, a boardinghouse for geisha run by a madam who buys the young girl as an investment. There Chiyo undergoes a grueling apprenticeship, surviving the scheming of the beautiful but spiteful Hatsumomo, the okiya’s star geisha, to become an even more luminous geisha herself. She also loses her virginity at the age of 15 to a man she calls Dr. Crab, who buys this privilege for a record price. After a few escapades in the company of some most undesirable patrons, she finally becomes the mistress of the man she had set her heart on all along, the benevolent chairman of an electrical supply company. Thus her story has a happy ending, and in this she is not especially typical — at least not outside the pages of romantic fiction. She winds up running a salon for visiting Japanese businessmen in New York and remains under the chairman’s patronage until his death. (For the record, I found her relationship with the chairman, heart moving to say the least, and what some other writers would describe as true love.)
I could go on and on, about Chiyo, turned Sayuri, but allow me to introduce Jakob Haarhuis, a fictional professor of Japanese at New York University, who is wheeled forward in a prefatory ”translator’s note” to provide an explanation for the novel’s telling. Haarhuis, alias Golden, presents what he tells us are Sayuri’s taped memoirs, but the author thinks better of this device in an epilogue, where he admits, not entirely to our surprise, that ”although the character of Sayuri and her story are completely invented, the historical facts of a geisha’s day-to-day life in the 1930’s and 1940’s are not.”
It is entirely credible that a geisha might be just like this, at least on the surface. But what about the woman inside the sumptuous kimono, underneath the white mask? Surely if this story is to be the novel that Haarhuis suggests, a story worth telling in the first person, it should be one of appearances and illusions that are borne out or contradicted by the realities of Sayuri’s private world.
Factual research or not, this book, did make for a good read. brought about a deep and rich understanding into the inner private world of the Japanese community. I spent countless of hours (truthfully minutes, but for the sake of effect, hours will do) dreaming about kimonos in lovely rich colors and being dolled up for hours on end (again, minutes, but you get the drift now) and let me not forget the countless tea parties I held in my head. I was mesmerized to say the least.
I could introduce “Hatsumomo” my least favorite, yet prominent character in the book, but what justice would I be doing, if I don’t allow you to purchase the book, and find out for yourself about her? (just incase you were wondering, yes “Hatsumomo is a female name indeed” )
So as they say, all good things must come to an end, and like the proverbial saying, so did the book. with a perfect ending that warmed my heart, through the tears, the heartbreak, the drama upon drama, that Chiyo went through, she came out stronger, and most importantly she fell in love. and we all know that the most important of all is love yes?
So if you are looking for say, a different book, try this one, if you are looking for something more sassy, well try Jackie collins. if you have mingling thoughts about Geisha’s in particular, maybe steer clear from this one. But if you are like me, riding the wave of any book thrown your way, testing the waters and taking the plunge, why don’t you walk to your nearest bookstore and grab a copy and enjoy.
If you have read the book, please share your thoughts in the comments below, and lets have some fun together.
Love, The Book Swag,