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Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha
Arthur Golden

I decided to read this book because I was curious about what a geisha actually was. I know most 'westerners' think them to be prostitutes, but to me that didn't seem to be the whole story. While they did strive to be ‘kept women’, they were also very skilled and cultured, who for the most part entertained men with dance, music, witty conversation and seduction of wealthy patrons. The word geisha does not mean ‘prostitute’ but ‘artisan’ or ‘artist’. However, sexual intrigue is part of the job description, namely in the ritual known as ‘mizuage’, the selling of their virginity. 

   This book is surely different and unlike any other book I've read, because of the theme and the way it's written. The pace and quickly changing conflicts leave no room for boredom. It's characters are vivid and the wording is clear and elegant. Personally, I've never became so emotionally attached to a book. I'd often find myself crying or laughing. There are many ups and downs in life that this book couldn't explain better. It's poignant, emotional and delves into the nuances of erotic maneuvering. It gives the reader a totally new perspective of history and a respect for the dramatic life of Japanese geishas. 

   Readers experience the obstacles and triumphs of a highly successful geisha known as Sayuri, from the time she was sold by her parents to a geisha family, to the triumphant auction of her mizuage and her reminiscent old age in Manhattan. Most of the story centers on the geisha's coming of age in Gion (the geisha district), struggles with rivals and her search for love during the 1930s and 1940s. We witness her struggle from maid, to apprentice and finally an actual geisha, and learn just what it is like to live solely to entertain and be perfect. Arthur Golden portrays the story through the eyes of a young girl, allowing us to experience the thoughts and feelings of a woman in her world, as well as the characteristic grace, stoicism and politeness of Japanese culture. 

   However, the annoying thing about this book is the ending. It’s so abrupt and simple. It undoes all of the sympathy and warmth I felt for the character. She becomes very shallow and manipulative. It’s like the writer got bored, or was behind on his deadline because the last pages were very weak, as if gave up and wanted to end the book. I can understand why she ended up where she else would she be able to tell her story? 

   But it’s disappointing because here is a woman with so much potential - she's beautiful and intelligent - but she is also trained to be manipulative, deceitful, and opportunistic. It seems to condone that the end justifies the means. The ultimate message of this book is; rely on yourself because everyone else will fail you. Not that this is surprising, based upon the environment and upbringing she experiences. It could be argued that she made the most out of her circumstances. For a book like this, with an incredible build up where you want to see everything wrapped up, there is no adequate ending. I still recommend the book, but warn against the end - what a letdown.

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