Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memoirs of a Geisha


"He was looking at me as a musician might look at his instrument just before he begins to play, with understanding and mastery. I felt that could see into me as though I were a part of him. How I would have loved to be the instrument he played!" these are the thoughts of 11-year-old Chiyo after her first meeting with the Chairman on the banks of the Kaino River. The chairman's charisma, charm, gentleness and sensitivity are a like a soothing balm on Chiyo's soul. A flash of an oasis in the cruel life that Chiyo lives in the okiya, a Geisha house. The encounter remains etched forever in Chiyo's mind and she decides to work hard towards becoming a successful Geisha, successful enough to win the affections of a man like the Chairman. Geishas are women trained to entertain men in 17th century Japan. They were trained to be skilled artists and conversationalists able to win the hearts of powerful men. Often they are misunderstood as prostitutes. But the journey from an ordinary girl to a geisha is not just tough but cruel. And that is what Memoirs of a Geisha is all about. The lives behind the painted masks of geishas and the pains with which they have to learn their arts of seduction. However, it is not just the beauty that makes a successful geisha, it is being present at the right place at the right time, and most importantly with the right man. It is amazing how the Arthur Golden has seen through the heart and soul of woman, who as a little girl who is cheated into coming to Kyoto by Mr. Tanaka a trader after her mother dies. Both Chiyo and her sister Satsu are sold. But while Satsu’s fate is to be sold into prostitution, Chiyo’s beauty and translucent eyes see her at the doors of an okiya.
At first Chiyo is devastated, separated by her sister and family and oppressed by the vain geisha Hatsumomo she doesn’t see any hope in her life. She hates being a maid in the okiya and dreads the life of a geisha. But life takes a turn when she come to know of her father’s death and her chance encounter with the chairman. In a way, the desire for the chairman fires her ambitions as she decides that one day she will have the chairman as her patron. It is not long before Chiyo becomes Nitta Sayuri, one of the most popular geishas in Kyoto.Golden, an MA in Japanese History from Columbia University with his lucid writing skills and arduous research has given us a peek into a now forgotten world of geishas of Gion, Kyoto. Right from the dressing style of the geisha, that is different from that of a prostitutes to the concept of the mizuage, Golden with his eye for detail has brought alive a time gone by. For the Geisha system was abolished right after the World War II. It was also beginning to fade away as rich patrons couldn’t afford to keep the geishas. Golden follows the thread till the end as Memoirs sustains the reader’s interest, weaving its way through the lives and loves of a Geisha. The tale though fictituous brings to light the reality that geishas lived half-a-century ago.
Memoirs of a Geisha Originally published in Shvoong: http://www.shvoong.com/books/474352-memoirs-geisha/

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