Ever since its publication in 1997, American writer Arthur Golden's best-selling novel, "Memoirs of a Geisha" has captured the imagination of both men and women who want to know more about what has been and remains a deeply mysterious cultural tradition in Japan -- that of the Geisha.
As part of his research, Golden convinced retired geisha Mineka Iwasaki of Japan to talk to him openly about her former profession. Although since the book's publication, Iwasaki has brought lawsuit against the author and the publishers for what she calls defamation of character, Golden continues to call the book a novel and doesn't make claims about how true many of the incidents and traditions in the book actually are.
Nevertheless, the end result is a wonderfully detailed, intimate account of a young girl growing up in a somewhat impoverished family and being "sold into the geisha world" to an older male and entry into the profession, with all its secrets and cultural traditions.
Whether the geisha traditions are ones of secrecy or simple discretion, what draws in readers and listeners is that it takes them on a detailed odyssey of a young girl's passage from innocence into adulthood as she learns about womanhood and being an ideal companion to a member of the opposite sex. The male is usually much older, wiser and wealthy enough to be able to keep a geisha, especially one who is highly desirable, as the protagonist of this work clearly is.
Geishas are far more than sexual partners, although one aspect of the geisha tradition involves the "mizuage," a type of coming-of-age ceremony in which the apprentice geisha's virginity is auctioned off to the most deserving, often highest-paying, male. Geishas are more aptly akin to skilled hostesses, proficient in music, dance, conversation, games and ways of entertaining. They accompany their rich and powerful companions to exclusive restaurants and tea houses, and often develop long-term relationships with those who value their accomplishments.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" is told from the first-person point of view of a young girl named Sayuri. This perspective adds to the verisimilitude of the work, making the book come to life for the listener.
Arthur Golden was born in 1956 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Members of his family were owners of the New York Times, so he has extensive background in publishing. He received an art degree from Harvard with an emphasis in Japanese art. He went on to study Japanese history, earning an M.A. in Japanese history at Columbia University.
Golden's interest in Japanese culture and traditions led him to researching and writing on the Geisha tradition.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" spent two years on the New York Times Bestseller List and has sold over five million copies in English. The 2005 movie based on the novel won three Academy Awards.
Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once
haunting and immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha.
Sayuri’s story begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a
nine-year-old with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold
into slavery to a renowned geisha house. It concludes with World War II when
the geisha houses are forced to close and Sayuri reinvents herself and finds a
rare kind of freedom on her own terms.
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