Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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Memoirs of a Geisha
By Arthur Golden
3.5 stars.

Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautifully written book, with intricate detail that shows that Arthur Golden has done his research. However, the story is shadowed with sexism and ultimately becomes a “fairy-tale” written by a man.

When Chiyo’s father sells her into a life of slavery at the age of nine, Chiyo is thrust into a world of cruelty, where every woman does what she can to survive. To become a successful Geisha, Chiyo must forsake her friendships and delve into a world of mind games to defeat her rival, the beautiful and cruel Hatsumomo. As the intrigue deepens, Chiyo, now the popular Geisha Sayuri, comes closer to achieving success, but it may come at the cost of the man she loves.

I was surprised by two things when I began reading this book. 1. How engaging it was from the very beginning. 2. That it wasn’t nearly as depressing as I’d thought it would be.

The first shows why this book was so revered when it hit the shelves in the late ’90s. It’s engaging, romantic, exciting. Chiyo is a like-able character with spunk, a heroine to root for. Yet, as the book winds on, this initial excitement became disappointment. Golden goes out of his way to tell his audience how selfless Chiyo is, insisting that while she is employing the same intrigue as Hatsumomo, Chiyo’s reasons are noble. Yet, by the end of the book, Chiyo’s actions not only ruin lives, but her reasons are selfish. Despite all the kindness Nobu has shown her over the span of fifteen years, she throws him over because of her obsession with the Chairman . . . and it somehow works out for her.

The second–that the book wasn’t nearly as depressing as I’d thought it would be–is rooted in Golden’s inability to understand the suffering of a woman alone in this time period. Many of his scenes were so clearly written by a man, to me. Golden glamorizes and sexualizes teenage Geisha. He romanticizes young girls fawning over old men. He downplays the sexual exploitation of women that is rampant throughout the book. What bothered me the most, however, is that Chiyo has no identity outside of her relationship with men, and especially the Chairman. Her entire focus in life is to be close to the Chairman. Without him, her life is meaningless, and she is willing to risk her reputation and give up everything she has worked for to be with him.

Chiyo has no moment of self-actualization. She has no moment of becoming a woman who is not defined by her relationship with men. To me, the ending was the saddest part of all. Though Golden tries to paint Chiyo’s story as a fairy-tale triumph, that a girl from the seaside can rise up to become rich and loved by a man, Chiyo ultimately ends up as alone as she was as a nine-year-old girl sold into slavery.

Golden’s story, while engaging, could not fully immerse me. His deep misunderstanding of women destabilizes the foundation on which this book rests, as well as his perpetuation of the lie that a woman’s identity can only be found in a man. So, while I understand the praise this book has received over the years, I also think it is far from the perfect work of fiction it has been ascribed to be.

I think the reality of Chiyo’s place in the world is driven home by a line spoken by her mentor, Mameha, mid-way through the book, and exposes the bitter powerlessness of what it is to be a Geisha:

“We don’t become geisha because we want our lives to be happy; we become geisha because we have no choice.”

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The Definitive Jane Austen Movie Adaptation Chart – Part 2

For Part 1, check out my previous post focusing on Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

To recap, these are my adaptations of choice–there are dozens of others, but I found these to be the most worth watching. If you think something else should have been on this list, feel free to comment below!

Persuasion

Best straight adaptations

2007 – Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones

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My Rating: 7/10
Faithfulness to Book: 6/10 Continue reading

T5W: Fantasy Series that Improved

top five wednesday

A notorious trope in fantasy trilogies is that the second book often falls flat. You know what I mean: characters recovering from a great battle and preparing for the Final Conflict, having petty arguments, traveling endless miles or sitting in one location for an annoying amount of time. But there are a few fantasy series I’ve discovered where I would argue that the second or subsequent books are better than the first, and absolutely worth holding out for. Continue reading

Top 5 Wednesday: Non-Western Inspired Fantasy Books

top five wednesday

This week’s topic is books that were inspired by non-western locations, or else set in a non-western location. I decided to narrow it down to Fantasy books inspired by non-western settings as those are pretty few and far between (in English at least). But first, I have a number of thoughts on this topic.

Have you ever wondered why English literature is dominated by western thought? The answer is simple. Because English is a language of the west. So it really isn’t surprising, nor, I think, necessarily a negative thing. However, because the US is a melting pot of cultures and with how our world has expanded into a global community rather than just a national one, it is important to learn about cultures beyond what we know in the west. So, I am happy that authors of non-Western background have been gaining recognition in recent years. Continue reading

Top 5 Wednesday: Children’s Books

top five wednesday

There were SO many books I adored as a kid. My reading game was never higher than when I was aged 9-12, because back then I actually had the time to read and it was really only school that got in my way. But here are the top five children’s series/books that come to mind. I tried to stick to books that I don’t see often on these lists. Continue reading

Monthly Recap – June

monthly recap

june

Books Read: 4
Genres Read: Historical romance, magical realism, mystery/action/horror/sci-fi/fantasy, modern drama

This was a much slower month for me reading-wise as I started a new full time job a few weeks ago and have had less time in general to read. But I did still manage to get through four books, a few less than my usual 6-7. Continue reading

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

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All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Magical realism
Rating: 4 stars.

I don’t quite know how to express my unexpected delight for this book. The prose was gorgeous, but also snarky in surprising ways, the characters were intensely complex and the growth they experienced compelling, and the way Stiefvater wove fantasy and reality together was incredibly seamless.

I also don’t quite know how to summarize this book. It is the story of the Soria family, but also of Pete and Tony and the other pilgrims who come to the Soria’s ranch in rural Colorado in search of a miracle. Ultimately, I think All the Crooked Saints is a story of facing the lies we believe about ourselves, driving them out, and replacing them with truth. Continue reading