Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Geisha, A Life - Mineko Iwasaki

The Basics: Geisha, A Life, Mineko Iwasaki with Rande Brown, 2002, 297 page, paperback

How I found it: I have been fascinated with Japan and Japanese culture since high school. One of my favourite books is Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, and I also really enjoyed Liza Dalby's Geisha. I did some searching at my local library to see if I could find some real, rather than fictionalized, memoirs of a geisha, and came up with this book.

What's it about?: This is Iwasaki's autobiography. Due to complicated family circumstances, she was adopted into a geisha family as a young child and school in the Japanese fine arts, especially dance. She excelled and as a teenager debuted as one of the top geisha in Japan. She tried to enact reforms in geisha society, but was unsuccessful so she chose to retire at age 29 at the height of her popularity.

Did I like it?: I really enjoyed this book. It is not as sensational as Memoirs of a Geisha, but that's okay since it seems so much more real. Iwasaki has lead a very interesting life. She also spends portions of her book explaining how geisha society works, which was educational. Unlike the protagonist in Memoirs of a Geisha, I didn't really identify with Iwasaki. I found a lot of the decisions she made quite strange. However, she is a strong, independent Japanese woman, which is a rarity and is commendable.

Will you like it?: If you are at all interested in geisha, this is a great book to read as a sort of counterpoint to Memoirs of a Geisha. That book is a better story, but this is real life, and there is something to be said for that.

But don't take my word for it: The usual info and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from the Asian Review of Books, a review from a westerner living in Japan, and one from the UK regional newspaper Echo.

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