Memoirs of a Geisha

Posted by Divya at Thursday, June 23, 2011

I had watched snippets of the movie based on this book many years back. It had confounded me to no end, especially since I had watched in bits and pieces and drawing the story from my husband, only emerged a disgruntled “Oh something about high profile prostitutes” and that was that. So a couple of weeks back, I found an old copy of the book at my town’s library sale and decided to grab it, primarily to find out who a Geisha really is!

Let me start off my saying that this book is a clear formula of ‘rags-to-riches’ we have read in many novels; but, it is the setting of the story in a little known neighborhood and the effort to unfold the mystery of being a Geisha, that is its selling point.

The writing is in first person and enraptures the reader enough to burn the reading lamp through the night. The author makes no mistake in taking us to the streets of Gion, the Geisha district, buzzing with tea-house parties and matriarchal okiya houses that run the show; he does this with absolute panache, that mid way through the book, you are more than just a reader, but a spectator, smelling the smells, drinking the tea and watching that world unfold before our eyes.

In a haunting and wise tone Nitta Sayuri, narrates her life since she was a child and the reader sympathizes easily with her pain and suffering as the story begins. And just like her poetic references and lyricism laden descriptions, her childhood and everything she fought for vanishes as the story twists to offer her a whole new life and even a new name.

It is in fact fascinating to understand the life of Geishas, who are entertainers and work very hard to master music, dance and even indulge in witty conversations. The painstaking efforts they make to dress, makeup, learn to smile and appease, keep company to men; it is but ironic that all this eventually is to be taken as a mistress to someone worthy. Further confounding is the concept of the danna to whom she offers necessary sexual favors in return for financial independence.

While all these puzzling details of a Geisha’s life can throw a reader into misunderstanding and wondering the moral and ethical sides of the story, it is often forgotten in the way the tale takes many mellifluous turns and keeps one engaged on what comes next.

Unfortunately in all its glamorous setting, the book did let me down in a few places. Sayuri’s character takes a setback towards the end of the book, when she comes out as manipulative and deceiving as some Geisha’s are expected to be. It is not clear if the author lost all interest and was in a hurry to end the book. Further the story in the last few pages, tips over to being an absolute fairy tale and one can’t stop but wonder if the ending is all influential of Cinderella!

Other than these few points that catch the reader off guard, it is definitely a book for the keeps. If you haven’t already read the book, I would highly recommend it, even with its little flaws, it is a beautifully rendered novel and the seductive tone of Sayuri is absolutely alluring!


Anu on June 27, 2011 at 12:50 PM said...

i have this book back home - I got it from koti an amazing place for 2nd hand paperbacks. I love everything about the book :) beautifully written n very well reviewed :)

Veens on June 29, 2011 at 6:36 AM said...

I would like to disagree with you on the ending. I think Sayuri did what anyone who is desperately in love would do. I think it has awesome ending. Any man in Chairman's place would do the same thing he did.

Oh well! I just loved this book and I thought it was awesome in everyway :)

Sumana on July 12, 2011 at 12:00 PM said...

You did a nice and honest review of the book. I got this book from the library 3 years back. At the time it was a hype since it got mentioned in Oprah's must read list !!! So, after I got it I went through half of it and lost interest and gave it back. I know , everybody seems to like this book , I am not sure why I lost interest in it ..


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