One does love a good book about Asian culture. I’m well versed in Thai ways – my mother would probably beat me if I wasn’t – but I’ve sadly neglected the other countries. Take the geisha culture that was predominant in Japan. I thought that, to put it brutally, ‘geisha’ was just another term for a prostitute, but with fancier make-up and better hair. Turns out that I was totally, utterly, uselessly wrong.
Although a novel, Memoirs of a Geisha is well-grounded in the facts behind geisha culture – so much so that I thought that it was a genuine account, until I read the acknowledgements in the back. I should have realised that Arthur Golden doesn’t really sound like the name of a geisha, but last week I was tired, and totally done with life, so that evidence passed by me. But oh! What a book. I expected it to be racier – see previous paragraph – and I winced slightly whenever I came up to a passage where I expected something to happen. Reading books with sex is not a good thing when one’s in the lounge with the parents. Trust me. Especially if said book is one by Wendy Holden, and you’re attempting to hold back the sniggers triggered by the mention of ‘Nelson’s Column’.
But Memoirs of a Geisha is certainly no Wendy Holden. Beautiful, tender and descriptive, the language used is uncomplicated, yet powerful. More like a diary than a novel, Golden has perfectly captured the voice of Sayuri – the geisha whose life is told – hence why, to an ignorant being such as myself, it seems totally factual. The storyline itself is also fantastic, as it’s not too ‘out there’ to be unbelievable, but the events that unfold have that hint of ‘woah surely that couldn’t have happened’. It’s a beautiful book. My description doesn’t give it justice. I’ll just give you an extract.
I wondered what he would think if he could see me kneeling here in Mameha’s apartment, wearing a robe more expensive than anything he’s ever laid eyes on, with a baron across from me and one of the most famous geisha in all of Japan at my side. I was hardly worthy of these surroundings. And then I became aware of the magnificent silk wrapped about my body, and had the feeling I might drown in beauty. At that moment, beauty struck me as a kind of painful melancholy.
from p 213 of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.
A beautiful novel, that’s also educational. Win-win situation. And Japan! And beautiful ladies! And beautiful dresses!
Have you read this? Or would you like to recommend any similar books?