It seems like most everyone loved this except me. I did like the first hundred or so pages, and it was a fairly quick read. My first gripe is a bit of a personal pet peeve I hate endless clothes descriptions and this book has so much. Yea I don't need to knew what you are wearing every moment. This book has a lot of women on women hate. It just got really pretty after awhile. Also as a romance this book failed completely. All of the men were at least mid thirties and most of the women were teens to early twenties. The men were also married and at some various points paying the women for sex so no it wasn't very romantic to me. The main romantic plot to me wasn't very believable to me. I hated the Mary Sue narration and just overall didn't like it. Recommend for people that are into sleazy men and catty women
I have no idea how to begin this review, nothing I can possibly say will adequately measure how beautifully enchanting the writing was. Without looking at the context and any possible controversies surrounding how this book came to be, I thought this novel was a mesmerizing read from start to finish.
Our main character Chiyo had such a fascinating life journey, from becoming an orphan to her relative-to-the-story end in New York City, I didn’t realize but slowly I found myself disliking her choices throughout the book. After a while, her decisions made me like her less and less, especially with some choices that may have seemed manipulative and twisted had it been from a different voice. One of the first decisions she made which I instantly disliked was her ability to give in to the life of a geisha so easily as she did.
“I dont think any of us can speak frankly about pain until we are no longer enduring it.”
“If a few minutes of suffering could make me so angry, what would years of it do? Even a stone can be worn down with enough rain.”
I think one of the great aspects of this book was definitely the hardship endured during the War, and how its effects trickle down to even the smallest of villages to large towns like Gion.
While there weren’t many twists and turns in this novel, there was certainly a sense of uncertainty where our main character will end up, or what will happen to her. At most parts, the readers can always tell what is to happen but it’s like a slow train wreck where you’re helpless to do anything but to look.
Chiyo’s relationship with the Chairman, the main love interest of a kind, was slow simmering in its entirety where the ending felt slightly unrealistic. I wholeheartedly was engrossed in Chiyo’s relations with others in her okiya, especially with the elders and Hatsumomo and Pumpkin. While we as readers can see from Chiyo’s POV, as an outsider she really is no different from other geishas imo regarding how she manipulates for her desires whenever she wants.
Obviously I can’t disregard the discrepancies between the way Japan is portrayed, the fact that the author of this story is someone non-Japanese writing as a memoir, or how it was slightly inspired from a true Geisha who did not want so much involvement released publicly through this book and said author disregarded her wishes.
Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #2: A book set in a different continent
The more historical fiction I read, the more I wonder whether it's just not the genre for me, even though I like history and the ability to travel "back in time" through reading.
But despite all the accolades this book has received, I kept wondering when the story was actually going to get STARTED. To me, the book primarily felt like a way for the author to show off his intimate knowledge of Japanese history and "Geisha" culture. The minutiae of the historical details, from the designs on the kimonos to the classes Geisha took, got to be a little much for me, especially since this book fell into the common pitfall of historical fiction, in which events that seem important enough to be dramatized in scenes are skimmed over in summary instead.
The characters were believable, and some of them were intriguing. I was especially interested in Mameha. But I didn't like how much of the book was centered around girl-on-girl aggression, "mean girl" tactics, and female jealousy. About halfway into the book, I found myself thinking, "Huh, I didn't know this book was going to be mostly about female rivalry."
The love story was only moderately satisfying to me -- I could understand why Sayuri was so drawn to The Chairman, but [ the fact that he picked her out as a female of interest when she was just a child was a little creepy to me, even though it seems like it was supposed to be romantic. Also, it's hard for me to get swept away in a love story in which one of the characters is married throughout its entire duration.]
I did like the way this book explored issues of privilege and choice -- despite the luxurious and glamorous lives that some geisha lived, and despite the satisfaction they drew from their profession, they are still essentially slaves who must make their decisions out of necessity rather than any true agency or desire. Sayuri's desire to set her own course despite these restrictions creates most of the tension in the second half of the book, and while I could understand her reasons for doing the things she did, I still found myself feeling a little annoyed with her. [ After all, it does seem ungrateful and misleading to express her deep affection for Nobu, to coax him into warm feelings for when he has a right to feel hurt or angry, and to depend on him to keep her safe during the war, all the ultimately decide she will never become romantically involved with him. Despite her lack of agency, it felt like she "used" Nobu from beginning to end, and I don't feel entirely okay about the fact that she is ultimately rewarded for this behavior.]
Overall, I am not sorry I read this, and the book's second half definitely moves along at a better pace than the beginning. But I remain somewhat suspicious of a Western, white man's interpretation of a Japanese woman's life, even if he did hold advanced degrees in Japanese history, especially since he gives her the incongruous and Western-valued blue eyes. I would have much rather read a real memoir from a real geisha.
A note on the movie: This is one of those rare instances in which I rated the movie higher than the book. I gave the movie 4 stars. It was visually beautiful, and it was also faithful to the book without getting bogged down in so many of the details. There were a few things I would have done differently -- [I would have included the full impact of the mizuage rather than just skimming over it by saying who was the highest bidder; it also softened the blow of the Baron's molestation of Sayuri by not showing the way he jerked off in her presence. I also was not sure that the subtleties of Sayuri's choice to sleep with the minister at the end came across without the stronger theme in the book of Sayuri's desire to avoid tying herself to Nobu.] So I think this is a movie best enjoyed after reading the book, and even then, perhaps only if, like me, you didn't like the book all that much, anyway. (A friend of mine who liked the book thought the movie was awful.)
There's an interesting article about the Japanese reaction to the movie here: https://www.quora.com/How-do-Japanese...