Memoirs Of A Geisha- Book Review Essay, Research Paper
“Memoirs Of a Geisha” Review
Memoirs of A Geisha
Beneath the concrete layers and behind the flashing neon signs lies a memory of another Japan, one defined by scented fans, mannered dances and the haunting echo of a shamisen stringed instrument. Arthur Golden, author of the meaningful book, Memoirs of a Geisha, offers readers an entry to this old time. Golden’s novel actually takes place in a country rapidly industrializing for the coming World War II. Like a geisha who has mastered the art of illusion, Golden creates a isolated floating world out of the engines of a modernizing Japan. And this sleight-of-hand is what draws us into the book and keeps us thoroughly absorbed.
The novel, as a whole, kept me completely enthralled due to both its simplicity and complexity. It is (simply) a fairy tale of a young girl who goes from rags to riches in a more modern method, and is complicated with those who take part in this rite of passage, the experiences she goes through, and coming to terms with her own self. The story begins in a rickety fishing village, where a somber, gray-eyed child named Chiyo is busy trying to keep the stench of salmon guts and the sickly odor of her mother’s cancer out of her home. When Chiyo’s mother dies, her father sells his daughter to an elite boardinghouse, where she will train to become a high-class geisha.
The eight-year-old Chiyo makes her entrance into Gion, the heart of Kyoto’s “water trade.” Here, 800 perfectly painted women rustle past in brocaded kimonos, their wooden sandals leaving tiny imprints in the snow. But underneath Gion’s lacquered finish is a cruel core. A jealous master named Hatsumomo, who lives in the Okiya with Chiyo, sets out to ruin her, clawing at the youngster’s future with the desperation of a woman who knows she will be dominated when the gray-eyed girl blossoms. The only touch the hungry and homesick Chiyo feels is when “Auntie poured a bucket of water over my robe to make the rod sting all the more, and then struck me so hard I couldn’t even draw a breath.”
Growing older, Chiyo learns that a geisha’s success depends on her mastery of understated sexual allure. Indeed, Chiyo?soon to be known by her geisha name, Sayuri?learns to flash a glimpse of her delicate wrist as she pours tea or to leave a slice of unmade-up skin barely visible at the base of her hairline. As the years go by, Sayuri develops feelings for a man that showed her kindness as a little girl, a man the reader only knows as “The Chairman”. When two men, Norobu-San, an associate and companion to “The Chairman”, and “The Doctor”, bid for Sayuri’s virginity, her stunning eyes and charming tearoom joking drive the fee up to a record price, more than a laborer could make in a year.
It’s a shock then, when Japan opens its arms to the Western World in the postwar years, and Sayuri must confront a world of obscene American G.I.s, jet planes and, in the final years of her life, a luxury suite at the Waldorf Towers in New York. Even Gion’s borders are buffeted by urban sprawl, and many geishas trade in their kimonos for miniskirts. At this stage, Golden’s spell he has cast upon Sayuri weakens, and the clarity of his narrative fades, all due to what Sayuri has experienced. And finally, as the edges of the floating world strain too much, we lose grip of the illusion that kept us entranced for so long.
I don’t think that Memoirs ended very well because it became too much of a fairy tale, and it lost me somewhat towards the end. Sayuri does meet again with the Chairman, only to abandon her life again. I was not too sure whether or not Sayuri had any children with the Chairman, although I was led to believe so: “….the chairman’s heir had discovered a new bit of information, such as the chairman had fathered an illegitimate son….”. Much of the book was quite effortless to understand, but, like this, Golden writes in a simple yet complicated way. Arthur Golden basically drops the reader at the end of the book, but as for the rest, it deserves nothing but praise. Golden’s manner of telling much of the story was quite entrancing, and as an over all grade, Memoirs Of a Geisha deserves a B+.
To compare Memoirs of a Geisha to a similar work, I couldn’t think of one that I had read recently. The only work that this book can be compared to cannot be found on the best sellers list, but rather, in the children’s section of the library. Forgive me for being too juvenile, but the only piece that comes into my head when I think of a similar plot to Memoirs is Cinderella. There is the girl who goes from rags to riches, and has to overcome specific obligated obstacles. Sayuri and Cinderella are the same, as are the wicked stepmother and Hatsumomo, who both feel the girl is an unnecessary factor in the world. Eventually, both Cinderella and Sayuri meet their Princes (Prince Charming, The Chairman) and, as the Brothers Grimm put it, lived happily ever after.
Memoirs Of a Geisha; Arthur Golden