Sunday, May 15, 2011

Book 37: Geisha, A Life

Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki was a fantastic book by a former Geisha in the Kyoto area. I almost can’t put into words how much I learned from her memoir and how fascinated I was by her story.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in the life of geisha’s (although after reading Iwasaki’s book I now know they are called Geikos) yet at the same time didn’t really know a whole lot since so much of the life is rather secretive. So when I saw this book at Borders, I knew I had to have it. I was hoping it would be deeper and feel more real to me then the novel, Memoirs of a Geisha. Fortunately for me, my instincts were right. This book was the real deal and yet you could see how her life was echoed in Memoirs of a Geisha (she was one of the people he consulted when he wrote the novel but changed many details).

I loved how much time Iwasaki put into explaining the Japanese culture and terms. It just gave the book so much more depth to it. But I’ve always loved learning the meaning of Japanese words (which is why when I went to Otakon I wanted to know about the term meant and learned about otaku) so I really liked seeing how carefully terms were explained and the proper names to ceremonies, hair styles and etc were given. The only disappointment I had was when Rande Brown (the translator) chose to put the names in the English format rather than the traditional Japanese format. So I started to automatically flip the names back into the traditional way (for example Iwasaki Mineko).

I liked how you could tell by the way Mineko wrote there were times she was truly naïve about life and was a child growing up in a world. It gave the book a real sense of truth and innocent to it, yet at the same time Mineko added her adult reflections to the same situation when it was warranted. This was a child who lived a privileged life and yet at the same time worked really hard. It’s funny to read how she cared more about the damage fan then the fact it was signed by the Prince Charles.

There are so many tales about what it was like to be a Maiko and Geiko that you can truly see how they are entertainers and not prostitutes in any sense of the word (although there are some events that carry the same name as the ones from the courtesan lifestyle). It’s great to see her reflections on what it was like to perform for Prince Charles, Mr. Gucci, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, President Ford, Harry Kissinger and other dignitaries. She got to interact with so many interesting people during her relatively short career. It became clear how every ozashiki had a different vibe to it since every patron had different expectations and interests.

I absolutely loved this book. I would recommend this to many of my friends if they are looking for a good memoir or to learn about the Geiko lifestyle. Although I know my mom will be one of the next people that I know will read this book since I will pass it off to her next. I can’t wait to hear her opinions on it since she also has an interest in Geiko.

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