Saturday, February 28, 2009

82 (2009 #7). Memoirs of a Geisha

by Arthur Golden,
read by Elaina Erika Davis

Despite the title, this book is actually a work of fiction presented as a memoir narrated by the main character, a famous geisha named Sayuri. Now living in New York (and supposedly being interviewed, so she has an excuse to explain things), she’s looking back at her life, training for and becoming a geisha in the 30s and war years into the 50s. The story begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when nine-year-old Chiyo, who has unusual blue-gray eyes, is bought from her widowed father and sold to an okiya, or geisha house, in Kyoto.

Arthur Golden studied Japanese art and history, and in an interview he said: Tokyo...I met a young man whose father was a famous businessman and whose mother was a geisha....After returning to the U.S., I began work on a novel in which I tried to imagine this young man's childhood. Gradually I found myself more interested in the life of the mother than the son and made up my mind to write a novel about a geisha.

Golden also interviewed former geisha, among them Mineko Iwasaki, and apparently based much of Sayuri’s character on her, sparking her lawsuit which was settled out of court. The book was also made into a movie which had its own controversies.

The abridged audiobook was read by television actress Elaina Erika Davis, who also narrated the Kira-Kira audiobook. Davis did an outstanding job with Japanese accents and creating different personalities for the characters in the book, especially Sayuri's rival, the cruel geisha Hatsumomo.

However, the abridgment was terrible! Like the awful abridged version of The Other Boleyn Girl, this was also a movie tie-in. Comprising only three discs (as opposed to the unabridged version’s 15), the story has been stripped down, and unfortunately the listener can tell – I always had the feeling something was missing.

Nevertheless, the ending of the book was disappointing. I didn't buy into the supposed love story of Sayuri and “the Chairman.” I did not feel the emotion there and the Chairman was a very one-dimensional character, plain and unappealing. Therefore, despite all the interesting information about the lives of geisha, the book is not compelling enough to re-read. I’d rather read Iwasaki’s book, Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda, Lesley Downer’s Women of the Pleasure Quarters, or Liza Dalby’s insider account, Geisha.

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