I’ll start out with the standard line that exposes me as typical westerner and illustrates my ignorance of other cultures in that before reading this book, if someone said the word Geisha I heard Prostitute. The two things were indistinguishable to me. Now the exact connotations of what being a Geisha entails is beyond a simple blog entry, suffice to say it is far from simply summed up quite so easily.
Chiyo is a young girl from in a small fishing village called Yoroido in Japan. The book takes us through Chiyo’s life from just before she and her sister are orphaned, to being sold as little more than a slave, to becoming Sayuri, one of Japan’s most renowned Geisha.
It is a beautifully crafted story that immerses the reader in the detail and the pageantry of life as a Geisha, and bizarrely I enjoyed this book for many of the same things that I disliked Engleby. It takes it’s time in the describing Sayuri’s routines, her plans and her misfortunes but because it is based in a culture that is so alien to it’s intended reader it doesn’t feel forced. On the contrary, it would have achieved far less impact by being more direct.
I will own up to the fact that there were times during the book where I forgot that it was fiction and genuinely believed that it must be based on a true story. I even took the time to google for the “Famous Painting” of Sayuri, only to find a page quite rudely telling me “It’s fiction, get a life”. Harsh … but maybe fair.