Saturday, November 21, 2009

REVIEW: Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki

Mineko Iwasaki tells the story of her time as one Japan's top Geishas until she retired at the age of 29. Her story is what Arthur Golden based his book Memoirs of a Geisha on (a book I loved by the way). The first thing I noticed right in the first chapter was the story had a lot of "I" in it. I know it is her story, but having the word "I" start 90% of the sentences on the page can get kind of irritating. When I was able to get past that I found her story to be really interesting. She portrayed herself as a very astute little girl who was able to make complicated, adult level decisions at a very young age. I have heard some criticize this memoir, saying there is no way she could remember with such clarity what happened in her life from the time she was three.

I think she did do an excellent job of explaining the intricacies of the Geisha world and the years of hard work involved in perfecting the art of becoming a Geisha. Her perspective was a unique one even in this society because she was chosen at a very young age to be the successor at her Okiya (Geisha house) which meant that she had a markedly different and more privileged existence than those who are not chosen for this role. She attributes her success to her constantly pushing herself to be the best and emphasizes this several times throughout the book.

A few things I didn't like: She constantly mentions that she tried to reform the way things were done within the Geisha community but she never goes into detail about what exactly she did. She also does a brief blurb about how courtesans differ from Geisha in that they also have mizauge (coming out ceremony) but courtesans sell their virginity and Geisha do not. It would have been helpful for her to go into more detail here since I think it is a misconception (especially after the Memoirs of a Geisha book and movie came out) that this is standard practice in the Geisha community.

If you are looking for more insight into the Geisha world then I would recommend this book even though I felt it could be less egocentric and more elaborate in some spots. If you are looking for pure entertainment value I would go with the infinitely more readable (and enjoyable) Memoirs of Geisha as long as you keep in mind that that one is fiction and the author did take liberties :)

If the FTC is wondering: I got this book from the library

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