The mysticism of the East is a curious thing – it draws you in wholly, bowls you over with its seductive and glittering character and yet when you leave it, you are just as clueless as when you started. In his brilliant debut, Arthur Golden attempts to demystify the ancient Geisha custom of Japan, by narrating the unnatural rise to fame of the blue-green eyed geisha Sayuri.
Details etched out intricately, Golden brings out the beauty of post-war Japan, from the Sayuri’s village Gion to the big bustling cities, Kyoto. The book follows Sayuri’s metamorphosis from a naïve, village girl to the most desired geisha in Japan. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it. This book examines extensively the burden and beauty of human relationships – from Chiyo’s lifelong enemity with Hatsumomo to her gentle and unrequited love for a mysterious businessman, Chairman.
The book details the life of a Geisha and splurges out the most intimate and secretive details of a Geisha’s life. The different rituals of the Japanese that have always alluded and mystified are demystified here. With a host of characters, the book weaves a superficial story that runs through various time periods, from peace to war to a pseudo peace. The extensive usage of Japanese vocabulary is interesting.
But what is disturbing is that the facts in the book aren’t all correct. This book is written by an American author for an American audience and it perpetuates the stereotypical thoughts about the Orients by the Occidents. What Edward Said tries to achieve in his monumental book, Orientalism this book destroys. Hence, this book must be taken at complete face value. If we can ignore this fact, this book is quite a read.
At the end of the day, this book remains a love story, rather Dickensian in nature. The situation it is presented it in, makes it a rather interesting read, but not one to take as a scholarly guide. The narration is amazingly convincing and by way of this, we readers feel as though we are a part of this shimmering and picturesque era in Japan. And we are left enamoured and thirsting for more.
Overall Rating: 7/10
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