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[2] Memoirs of a Geisha: the Novel – Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha is a novel and the character of the geishas is only Arthur Golden’s inventions. But the novel presents a seamless authenticity of a hidden world full of complex rituals, ruts, regulations, and machinations. Interwoven between first- and third person narratives, the novel is a geisha’s reflection of her life that began in early twentieth century, in a remote fishing village Toroido. A little girl was sold to an okiya in Kyoto where she worked as a maid. Upon separation from her older sister and after the death of her parents, she lost all hope and her dream of seeing her family shattered. All that was left in her were confusion and confusion.

Since the outsiders have limited knowledge of a geisha’s profession, even though the geisha might be in a less favored position to observe incidents around her, Sayuri might have left a record of herself that is far more complete, more accurate, and more compelling than any previous account. Arthur Golden has presented a character, a geisha from the 1920s, to deliver a powerful account that reconstructs nuances of a mysterious profession.

The incessant chores, the acrimonious okiya mother (headmistress), the constant bullying from the jealous geisha in the house made the little girl’s life more difficult. It strengthened her determination to run away. Her futile attempts to escape enraged the mistress and forfeited her opportunity to get the training to become a geisha. Chiyo (Sayuri was her geisha’s name later) ineluctably faced a bleak prospect as her debts to the okiya stacked high. Since nobody made a decision to become a geisha, her only choice was to at least complete apprenticeshipand hopefully made enough money as a mediocre geisha to pay back for her living expenses and lessons. One can see that being a geisha is no more than a total surrender of self and will.

Chiyo’s road to become a geisha was thorny. She was constant the target of bullying from a senior geisha who hated anyone more successful than she was and who thrived to rid of all prospective rivals. Even though the senior geisha had falsely accused her, faulted her, and rendered her debut a standstill, her determination to become a geisha did not spring from the inventive to revenge on her enemy. The driving force was to attract a man who was as gentlemanly as the one who gave her a coin when she first arrived in Kyoto. This is the heart of the novel: in the geisha’s world where appearances are paramount and where love is scorned as illusion, our little heroine has steered her whole life toward winning the affection of one man whom she admired.

The geisha world was about putting on the most impeccable appearance in order to attract a long-term patron (danna) who would sustain a relationship like a business deal. In other word, a true geisha would never risk to blemish her reputation by making herself available to men on a nightly basis. Even though she would not pretend she never gave in to a man she found attractive, she had to be extremely careful and discreet about any serious romantic relationship that would jeopardize her relationship with beneficiaries. A geisha, like our heroine, was advised against any circumstances that would diminish the chance of anchoring to a powerful danna. A geisha was to put on the best show to fish for a sponsor. Therefore, on the account of the exquisite fabrics that draped a geisha and the strict ceremonial measures, the most severe rebuke a young geisha was likely to receive probably wouldn’t be for performing poorly, but rather for having dirty fingernails, tousled hair or having poor manner. Every aspect of a geisha’s life is used to secure an affluent tutelage, is programmed to success, which is gauged by money. Behind the impeccable beauty was painful melancholy.

In a world where a girl’s virginity was auctioned to the highest bidder, Memoirs of a Geisha illuminates how inexorably a geisha must comply to the complicated ruts in order to sustain popularity. It beguiles the reader as much as the geishas beguiled the most powerful men; and immerses the reader in an exotic territory with its nuanced portraits of lives in the okiya and the gion (geisha district in Kyoto). The novel spans over sixty years encompassing the Great Depression and the Second World War, following which sees the downhill of the geisha industry.

4 Responses

  1. […] a time but keep my option open with nonfiction and essays. When I accidentally dropped the copy of Memoirs of a Geisha, I dried the book page by page with a hairdryer, for I refused to part with the book with which I […]

  2. […] book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time, etc.): Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I read the book on my vacation in Phuket, Thailand in December 2004. The book […]

  3. […] Geisha: The Film Posted on September 2, 2009 by Matthew Almost four years after I read the novel by Arthur Golden, I finally watched the movie that was said to cater toward American audience, or […]

  4. Since you are celebrating your fifth year of blogging I decided to have a look at some of the early books you have reviewed. This is a book I borrowed from a friend and was reluctant to let go. I copied down most of the Japanese words and their meanings. One character I loved was Chairman, the man who was described as having a lizard skin (or something like that).

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