Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Like many people up and down the country I am currently a Playstation widow. My husband is playing the hot new game 'Ghosts of Tsushima' which is set in Japan and looks very beautiful on screen. Think Samurai, falling leaves and bubbling streams. I am absolutely hopeless on the Playstation, I spent most of 'Call of Duty' as an army officer looking at my feet. Give me a good book anytime! Anyhoo, seeing the beautiful visuals and wistful soundtrack made me a crave a book about Japan, Memoirs of a Geisha it was then. This features on the BBC Big Read List, which I have undertaken to read through again. You can read all about my challenge here. It was wonderful to enjoy this book once more.
Chiyo is sold by her father as a little girl to become a Geisha in training.She starts as a house-maid, living under Mother and the cruel Hatsumuomu, the okiya's top earning Geisha. After a particularly unpleasant day, she encounters the kind Chairman and prays that one day she will become a Geisha and be with the Chairman. It seems her prayers have been answered when she is taken under the wing of the beautiful Mameha who agrees to become her 'big sister'. It is here we learn all about the notoriously private world of the Geisha.
Arthur Golden has undertaken a huge amount of research for this novel about a profession that thrives on discretion and confidentiality. He received help from a real life Geisha who shortly after the novel's release was shunned by the Geisha community.
We learn a phenomenal amount about a Geisha's life, the traditions, the ceremonies and superstitions and about the key auspicious times in a young Geisha's life. It is illuminating and certainly challenged my perceptions of what a Geisha is. The word Geisha means 'artist' and to be a Geisha means to demonstrate artistry - music, dance and the art of good conversation delivered with grace and poise.
The writing is delicate like the finest china cup. One of the constant themes running through the novel is water. Chiyo has been told that she has an abundance of 'water' in her character and indeed Chiyo's journey is like a river. She flows with life's path and when she is blocked, will find a different path, still forging forward. Chiyo herself is a spirited character, again challenging the perception of the seemingly compliant Geisha.
We learn about the competitive and ambitious world of the Geisha. At times, this reads like a political thriller as Mameha and Choyo try to out manoeuvre Hatsumuomo. We learn how every simple movement has meaning and intention. A Geisha would show part of her wrist to a man during the tea ceremony, a glimpse of a possible future, but would be more discreet in the presence of other women.
I have loved re-reading this novel and for me this definitely deserves its place on the Big Read list. The cover art work is stunning. Not only is it well researched, packed with information but Arthur Golden has achieved balancing this research with beautiful words.