Memoirs of a Geisha

I just finished Memoirs of a Geisha this week.  I have to say, I don’t know what all the fuss was about. Learning about the training of a geisha and their lifestyle was interesting, but the main charactor, Sayuri, annoyed the heck out of me.  She described everything using metaphors.  I think the author was trying to make her appear poetic and deep, but they were so overused that it seemed forced.  Here is an exaple,

“But now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however, we suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.

She uses two separate metaphors to describe the same thing!  Enough already!!

Geishas are also supposed to be clever conversationalists.  Her examples of “clever” conversation all involved a geisha talking about being naked with her skin exposed to breezes or what not.  That didn’t strike me as “clever.” One does not need to be very clever to arouse drunk males.  I didn’t read one example of clever conversation in the whole damn book.

Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but I just don’t understand the whole geisha thing.  They aren’t “prostitutes,” but they do sleep with men for money.  Kinda sounds like a prostitute to  me; albeit an expensive, high-class prostitute.  Watch Mal’s take on “Companions” in Firefly, and that’s pretty much my impression of geishas.

The main story thread also aggravated me.  *SPOILER ALERT*  Sayuri encounters this man, The Chairman, one day as she is crying by the river.  He speaks a few kind words to her, gives her money to buy shaved ice, and a hankie to dry her tears.  Of course, she immediately falls in love with him in that instant and spends the next 15-20 years yearning for him.  Eventually, after a series of unfortunate events, he ends up becoming her “danna” and paying her Okiya for the pleasure of sleeping with her a few times a week.  How romantic.  Oh, and he’s married and has a family.  I just don’t get it.  I understand that she was essentially sold into the lifestyle and had very few options, especially in those times (the book takes place during the Great Depression/World War 2), but still.

I did enjoy reading about the culture and the kimonos, however.   In my opinion, if the book had been written about a truly clever Geisha, it would have been much better.


5 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Geisha

  1. Laura

    I read it forever ago and liked it, although it wasn’t as grand as I had hoped; possibly for many of the same reasons you didn’t like it. I was more fascinated by the culture and idea than the actual story.

  2. Tim

    Great review! I like ancient and modern Japanese culture, and wondered about reading this, but now I’ll definitely save my time. If you want a less romanticized version of how some women are treated in Japan, read Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein. Also, it depends how drunk they are.

  3. hlofromcello

    According to the book, pretty much all that happened at the tea houses where the geishas “entertained” was drinking games. So everyone was pretty drunk pretty much always.


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