Smell the Cherry Blossoms with Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a geishaBook Title: Memoirs of a Geisha

Author: Arthur Golden

Genres:  Literary Fiction, Adult Fiction

Pub Date: 1/10/99 Vintage

4 STARS

A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha.

In “Memoirs of a Geisha,” we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction – at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful – and completely unforgettable.

 Hard to believe that this former best seller is 20 years old (hardcopy). I started reading it for book club…probably in the early 2000s…and got as far as page 125. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it…I simply ran out of time before the group met to finish on time. Not sure exactly why I never finished the novel back then but I assumed life got in the way and some bright, shiny object came into my central vision that took my interest away from early 20th Century Japan.

I decided to pick this book up again…reading from an actual book and not electronically for a change of pace. Memoirs of a Geisha is my selection for the ‘Set Somewhere I’ve Never Been but Would Like to Visit” category in Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading for Fun 2017 Challenge.

The set-up for the book, as the translator explains, is that one of the most famous geishas, Nitta Sayuri contacted him translate the story of her life. Shortly thereafter we enter her world and follow her humble beginnings in a small Japanese village where she lived in a tipsy house to the world of geishas.

Sayuri and her sister, thanks to their father, were sold by the town’s bigwig to nefarious people and brought to houses that procured and developed geishas. As Sayuri’s journey unfolds, the reader follows her through a coming-of-age in a culture and environment that speaks volumes about Japan during the Depression. What I found interesting is how the life of a geisha was tied to a lot of rules and regulations. Dispelled was the preconceived notion that geishas’ sole purpose was pleasuring men sexually, but that truly was the least of their talents. Geishas were taught so much more…learned in arts, music, tea serving and especially dance. Shocking was the fact that men bid on a young geisha’s virginity with many deflowerings taking place for girls under the age of consent.

Throughout the book, there are emotional highs and emotional lows. There is love and hate, rewards and loss. The language in Memoirs of a Geisha is lush…there are always beautiful descriptions in which you would swear you have traveled to war-torn Japan and could smell the cherry blossoms.

If you enjoy a well-told story with a character centric focus and have not read this decades-old best seller, you will not be disappointed.

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