“She paints her face to hide her face. Her eyes are deep water. It is not for Geisha to want. It is not for geisha to feel. Geisha is an artist of the floating world. She dances, she sings. She entertains you, whatever you want. The rest is shadows, the rest is secret.”
I was very unfamiliar with Japanese culture prior to reading Memoirs of a Geisha; this novel provided me with profound insight into the hidden world of geishas. The story is told from the viewpoint of a poor young girl who was given no choice but to become one of the aforementioned traditional female entertainers. We have the opportunity to follow her life, from her rural origins to her transformation into one of the most renowned geishas in Kyoto.
However, the novel is not solely about geishas; it is about the horrible treatment of women, not only by men, but also by other women. It also raises the pertinent question about the international impact Western standards of beauty have had for centuries. The fact that the protagonist obtains much of her success because of her blue eyes is interesting and troubling: Why do we value features and traits that are not usually found in our ethnic groups? Is it because of a fascination with the exotic, or is it something deeper and more alarming?
I recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the intricacies of twentieth Japanese society through a literary lens that is told by a usually ignored sector of society. There was also a popular movie made from this novel of the same name; it follows the story of the novel pretty closely. Click here to view the trailer.
Per Amazon.com, “Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable”.