My Memoirs of reading "Memoirs of a Geisha"

Just finished reading Arthur Golden's unputdownable book - Memoirs of a Geisha. (Also see: Sumedha's review.) An extremely well-written fictional autobiography of the life and times of geisha-Nitta Sayuri. It is an astounding achievement considering how an American can attempt to write about a alien culture and esoteric tradition, and as a male effortlessly get in the skin of a woman and write such a sensitive first-person account of a geisha. The book is so well-crafted that this fact, will be completely erased from your mind after the first few pages you are convinced that this is a truly transcribed from the interviews given by Nitta Sayuri to a Dutch-born Harvard professor. The scholarship of Golden with regards to geisha culture is beyond doubt, though I was most impressed with his style of writing such a book. Every word, sentence, idiom and metaphor has an authentic Japanese feel to it. He talks with metaphors using the 'waves, the moon, cherry blossoms, plums in rice cakes' that it often reads as a Japanese translation. It is extremely hard to be so authentic without sounding contrived. If anything, the plot seems contrived with a fairy-tale ending. It hardly matters in the enjoyment of this tale, as he transports you to Kyoto's Gion district in the geisha heyday of the 30s and 40s. Almost effortlessly, you watch the geisha require two people to help her dress in their kimono and apply makeup. You take a walk with them along the Shirakawa stream, observe their rivalries, jealousies. You watch, as these girls sold by their desperate families into slavery fight like cats to make a success of whatever life handed out to them. As Mameha says, " We do not become geisha because we want to, but because we have no choice", as their personal desires were often sacrificed to what made most business sense.
Geisha are not prostitutes, but still are available for money. A whole lot of time and money, cheekily put, 'a lot of buck for a bang.' The kotah is a close Indian equivalent of the Japanese okiya. Reading this reminded me of Hindi films like Pakeezah and Mughal-e-Azam. Okiyas preserve the Japanese traditions of music, dancing, poetry and theatre. It takes years of training and following strict protocols and a lot of hardwork before one becomes a geisha. Ironically, we learn that most men who can afford the services and company of geisha rarely know how to behave and mostly end up drunk. Their dance and craft is in the end always secondary to what men finally just want - SEX. When Sayuri finally learns for what she earns the highest price, she wryly comments, " was as if somene was scratching the inside of my thigh."
The sexism of the times and the whole concept is exemplified by the fact that daughters of geisha had no choice but to be geisha and sons could even become heirs.There are very few Geisha left in Japan, now replaced by the cheaper versions of escorts. Female exploitation still continues in some form or the other.

Geisha may soon be relics of an age past,
But parallel lives of mistresses and wives will remain.
Despite everything somethings just don't change.

News Update
This is going to now be made into a movie produced by Rob Marshall (Chicago)

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