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Being Born and Raised to Become a Kyoto Geisha

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“I wasn’t born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha… I’m a fisherman’s daughter from a little town called Yoroido on the Sea of Japan.” Beginning in a poor fishing village in 1929, Memoirs of a Geisha chronicles the life of nine-year-old Chiyo, born with blue-gray eyes, and sold with her sister into the slave life of being a geisha after her mother’s death. Lost in this new world where a girls virginity is sold to the highest bidder, Chiyo works as a servant in the okiya of Hatsumomo until she is taken under of wing of Hatsumomo’s archenemy Mameha, another powerful and beautiful geisha in another okiya. After years of endless drama, extensive schooling on entertaining men, ducking Hatsumomo’s wrath, and losing a best friend, Chiyo becomes Sayuri, one of the most successful geisha ever… only to lose it all again.

The first time Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha came to my attention was when I saw the cover of the book and a brief description in Cosmopolitan magazine two years ago. Although I was interested in the novel, I was hesitant to read it because I don’t generally like books with cultural and romantic references, however, from page one I knew that I was in for the long haul. Written like a work of poetry, Memoirs of a Geisha carries the reader through a complete range of emotions, the novel is a ride over the highest hills and mountains and back down again. What I found most intriguing was that this book is actually written by a man, but really explores the life, emotions, and trials of a woman so accurately and fully. It is hard to believe that a man could write a novel so deep and moving. Golden employed none of the literary devices that one would expect, he instead just wrote a straight-forward novel, stopping his path only to add a Japanese saying or to describe the trees during the change of season. The novel is almost biographical.

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Honestly, I was most excited to read Memoirs of a Geisha because I thought, from how the book has been described, that it would tell about the lives of prostitutes. I was expecting a raw, gritty story of pimps and johns in Japan. However, I was instead handed a intimate and, after researching the topic, realistic view into the lives of actual geisha in Japan, who are not prostitutes but girls who are trains to act proper and stand on the arm of admired gentleman to entertain him during parties and events. Geishas are trained to serve tea and so forth and only have one man who provides for them financially. After reading the book I had to delve deeper into the geisha world, which still exists in modern day Japan.

Memoirs of a Geisha has become one of my all time favorite books, it plays over and over in your head even after completion, and I anxiously await Arthur Golden’s next work. Would I recommend this book? Definitely, I would even go so far as to buy it for the non-believers. It is truly a masterpiece.


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