I generally prefer to read books before watching the movie based on them, but a few years ago on a plane flight I watched the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” even though I hadn’t read the book. I enjoyed the movie, although the tiny in-seat screen on the plane did not exactly do it justice, and have had the book on my TBR list ever since. I finally got around to reading it during my recent trip. It was even better than I expected, and also better than what I remember of the movie (although now I would like to see the movie again).
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden, is a beautiful book and story. I was a little nervous about how well a white man could write about a Japanese Geisha, but my worries were quickly dispelled. Golden treats the subject with incredible sensitivity, and draws you into the life and mind of one particular Geisha, the narrator whose memoir you are supposedly reading. The narration is wrapped in beautifully written, luscious details. Since it is in the form of a memoir, the narrator is looking back on her life and thus sometimes inserts reflections and contemplations on the meaning of things. Golden expertly weaves together a story containing interesting events, detailed descriptions, and deep thoughts. He draws you in to another world, one that was utterly foreign to me.
I highly recommend Memoirs of a Geisha, to everyone. I leave you with a sample of the beautiful writing:
In our little fishing village of Yoroido, I lived in what I called a “tipsy house.” It stood near a cliff where the wind off the ocean was always blowing. As a child it seemed to me as if the ocean had caught a terrible cold, because it was always wheezing and there would be spells when it let out a huge sneeze – which is to say there was a burst of wind with a tremendous spray. I decided our tiny house must have been offended by the ocean sneezing in its face from time to time, and took to leaning back because it wanted to get out of the way. Probably it would have collapsed if my father hadn’t cut a timber from a wrecked fishing boat to prop up the eaves, which made the house look like a tipsy old man leaning on his crutch.
Inside this tipsy house I lived something of a lopsided life.
She stood as tall and thin as a broom, with long hair that trailed behind her as she scurried about. And her face was narrow like a grain of rice, so that I couldn’t help thinking that one day she too would be thrown into the pot just as I had been, and would fluff up white and delicious, to be consumed.
Adversity is like a strong wind. I don’t mean just that it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.