Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

I was fascinated by the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, and decided, as I often do, to get the book. I was not disappointed.

There were several changes from book to movie, like changing the Minister of Finance to an American army officer and giving Nobu-san back his arm, among other things, but reading the original did not take away from the experience of the movie. It is best in cases like this where the movie is good to treat book and movie as separate. There was no mention of Sayuri's danna or the trip to the island where Sayuri plans to make sure that Nobu-san does not become her danna as this was replaced by the American army officer. Again, it did not detract from the book or the writing.

Memoirs of a Geisha is written in a flowing conversational style that is more like confidences between new friends sharing their lives. This is mostly because Arthur Golden took Chiyo/Sayuri's story directly from the source and retained her style and voice. It was very well done and made the story move quickly. I often had a hard time putting the book down and got through the whole story in about 2 days even though I worked and did other projects as well.

I was captivated by the story and the details of life in a geisha district. It was different from the world I know, but not completely unknown since I have been exposed to Japanese culture through my father and our military travels. I already knew that geisha were not prostitutes but entertainers.

Where the movie excelled was in depicting the artistic moments of dance, the richness of the culture, and the beauty of kimono. The book did well to describe the scenes and kimono, but there is no substitute for seeing the real thing, and yet Golden did an exemplary job of describing the scenes and characters with rich detail that sparked imagination.

There is so much detail in Memoirs of a Geisha that reading it several more times will be a pleasure, gleaning every detail to its smallest moment. The book is rich in cultural detail and emotion and the story, although simply told, is one that crosses cultural boundaries. Who has not loved and lost only to find love again while bearing the anguish of possibilities hoped for that may never be realized? Memoirs of a Geisha is such a story and one that remains poignant and palpably real in the shifting landscape of a disappearing Japanese culture that had lasted for centuries. I highly recommend the book -- and the movie.

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