Although I kind of derailed the discussion by making the mistake of expressing my distaste for a certain character (I still think he’s a jerk, by the way), Gwen did a great job hosting Memoirs of a Geisha last month. It’s been a while since we’ve had more than one thread going on a title, and I loved the thought she put into creating her posts. Brava!
Memoirs of a Geisha, cont.
I'm glad that everyone who's commented so far has enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha, but I'm a little surprised, considering what a bunch of voraciously up-to-date bookworms you are, that no one had read it before. What stopped you from marking it off your list for so long?
Personally, I was sure it would be more of a hubba-hubba salacious look at this culture, an Unauthorized Biography of a Geisha Gone Wild, if you will. Like the Anna-Nicoles Sayuri meets at society parties in New York, the only concept I'd ever had of "geisha" is as a synonym for "prostitute." I'm not sure this book has changed my mind on the basic definition, but it certainly expanded my ideas of what being a geisha entailed.
How has your concept of "geisha" changed? At her core, is a geisha anything more than a gussied-up prostitute?
Following Mary's lead, I'd like to further discuss the issue of Sayuri's self-proclaimed cleverness. The main thing that left a bad aftertaste with me after both readings was the easy fairytale ending -- I didn't feel like she deserved it.
Throughout the book, Sayuri acts in tandem with Mameha's cautions that we're fated to our fates rather than heeding Nobu's carpe diem lectures. She passively waxes about holding onto her hopes, while relating the numerous examples of the truth in Mameha's statement that "We don't become geisha so our lives will be satisfying. We become geisha because we have no other choice." (294)
At its core, her internal dialogue, while beautiful, comes across as little more than "Pretty, pretty, someone was mean, pretty, what will I do about the Chairman and my sister, oh, look at the lovely butterfly." After her initial meeting with the Chairman, Sayuri has an epiphany: "To become a geisha ... well, that was hardly a purpose in life. But to be a geisha ... I could see it now as a stepping-stone to something else," (114) and starts doing some complex math, figuring out how old the Chairman will be when she's grown up. It seems like a turning point in the story, that Sayuri will finally get off her butt and just do something, but she doesn't. The only reason she ends up anything but a maid is Mameha's sudden interest. Nothing happens in Sayuri's life without someone else's intervention. Even the one instance where change is instigated when she takes action is arguably due to Pumpkin's stepping in.
Where, then, is her cleverness? Does it seem reasonable to you that someone who faces such long odds yet practices "not fighting the currents, but moving with them" (127) ends up with the proverbial brass ring?
Finally, just because this made me laugh: Is there anyone who agrees with the statement made by the Amazon reader who said Geisha is "So tediously boring in its excruciating detail, I couldn't finish it"?
Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha is one of those hoopla-ridden runaway bestsellers I tend to avoid simply because of the lowest common denominator factor -- my experience has been that the things that everyone buys into (summer blockbusters, airport paperbacks, Top 10 sitcoms, pre-fab boy bands, etc.) tend to be big disappointments.
But I picked up a copy at a yard sale a few months ago (along with several of those Tuscany memoirs that were so popular a few years ago. 10¢ and as long as everyone else has read it and it's summer...), and was surprised not only by how much I enjoyed it but how much I've been thinking about it since reading it.
To start with, I'd like to discuss the somewhat peculiar and particularly obvious issue of the voice of the book. This story of an early-20th-century Japanese peasant girl who makes the journey to geishahood is told by a present-day, well-educated American family man. I have to admit, this is an idea that didn't sit particularly well with my post-modern feminist leanings, but I should have known better than to come in with preconceived notions about who should write what. An author's basic responsibility, after all, is to write what he (or she) knows in as convincing and engaging a manner as possible.
How did you find the voice of the story? Was it convincing? Did you have pre-conceptions about gender and voice? Did you find these notions at all disruptive to your reading, or was Golden's extensive knowledge of Japanese and geisha culture sufficient to override them? Should it matter who wrote it?
Also, I'm curious if anyone has read Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki, the former geisha who Golden interviewed extensively for his novel, and if you have any thoughts on it or comparisons of the two.