One of my favourite books.
I haven’t seen the movie, but like Twilight, I’ve heard terrible things about it, so I’m probably not going to bother.
I have to admit, reading through, that sometimes it does seem sort of glamorous. Getting immaculately dolled up, dazzling and entertaining men with wit, charm, grace and beauty, being admired and having someone who pays all your living expenses and more to spend time with you.
But it also seems like a really lonely existence. You work all day, every day. You always have to maintain a perfect facade. You’ve always got to be in control; you can’t be off game for even one night. And yet at the same time, you have very little control over your own destiny. As Mameha says, “We don’t become geisha because we want our lives to be satisfying. We become geisha because we have no other choice.”
And it’s so true. Getting sold to an okiya, incurring huge debts during training and not being able to pay it back for years, if you’re an adopted daughter, never seeing any of your own earnings, adhering to a strict hierarchy. Having to entertain rude, ignorant or downright disgusting men. The geisha can’t be truly successful without a wealthy danna to pay for her upkeep. And I struggle to comprehend the role of women in this world – at one point she quotes “When a man takes a mistress, he doesn’t divorce his wife.” Fine, fair enough. But how hard must it be for the wife? To know your husband is off with someone else, in the evenings, on weekends? At another point, they’re all at a party. The wife sees all the geisha out and gives them leaving presents. One of the geisha has “left early”, but really has gone to another wing of the house with the husband for the night. And the wife knows this.
What I thought worst of all was that when the war began, Sayuri had no one to turn to. She says that no one wants a geisha in need. Every geisha in Gion is turning to the men they know hoping for help, hoping to be rescued. None of them can survive of her own accord.
So while I love, love love the book, and I think it’s an amazing insight into a totally exotic world, it saddens me as well the more I read it. I know it’s not true. That’s something I had trouble believing – it sounded so realistic, and the “foreword” didn’t help. I just wanted to believe the beautiful ending, that she’d finally found happiness.
The prose is super flowery and super poetic. Some people probably think it’s too over the top. At times it’s a little irritating I guess, a little too extreme. But considering the culture, and Sayuri’s personality, I think it’s appropriate, and I’m totally amazed at Arthur Golden’s ability to build such a strong, convincing female voice.