I bought this book about 3 years ago and never got around to reading it…until now! I probably wouldn’t have read it for another 3 years if I hadn’t selected it for my book and movie club selection this month though. However, I’m really glad I finally read this book, it was a great read and taught me a lot about geishas (since I knew absolutely nothing beforehand, that would be everything) and it even taught me about myself by making me reflect on decisions I’ve made and decisions I’m making now or will be making in the near future.
Review of book:
Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautifully written book, full of topics and sentences that make the reader stop and think for a while. For example:
“This is why dreams can be such dangerous things: they smolder on like a fire does, and sometimes they consume us completely.”
You always hear about how great it is to have dreams, but sometimes they can become destructive if you aren’t careful. (Something I had been pondering over and it was wonderful to stumble upon a sentence that was like “Hey, I know what you’re thinking! You’re not the only one who thinks like this.”) I also felt I was able to learn a lot about what exactly a geisha was (not a prostitute) and some of the different aspects of the culture around and during the time of WWII. It was a very interesting and thought-provoking read, but, for me, not an all-consuming “can’t put it down book”.
The story follows the life of a little girl from a poor fishing village into her ultimate transformation into one of the greatest geisha of all time and then her life after quitting the role of a geisha. Along the way she faces many difficult choices, unfair predicaments, and some pretty nasty characters. Her life is far from easy and her choices will make or break her in the tough life of becoming (and staying) a respected geisha. And can she be a geisha, while still remaining true to herself?
Overall, this was a great book; it teaches many lessons about life and history while not being overly depressing (I didn’t even cry!). It made me think about the choices I’m making in my life, so I think it’s a worthwhile read.
Movie in comparison with book:
The movie was beautiful too, although different from the book in a number of ways. For me, the overall feel of the characters, including the main character Sayuri, was not the same. She didn’t have the same charm, vulnerability, sarcastic humor, and intelligence that I perceived throughout the book. Some of the other characters who felt different included; Sayuri’s sister has a little more depth, the Chairman has more involvement throughout the movie, Mameha was definitely more motherly and understanding than I pictured (I had imagined more of a sister, who is rather harsh). Mr. Taneka, Sayuri’s mother, Granny, the General, and several other characters are also virtually non-existent in the movie, whereas they had a rather large part in the book. However, Hatsumomo was pretty spot on. Some of her actions were changed (one of them is quite a shocker!), but the feel of her character I thought stayed true to the book.
Despite the characters not having the same feel as in the book, the tale of Sayuri’s growth into a geisha remains as tragic and moving as the written version. Some scenes are also notably different, but I didn’t feel that they detracted from the overall effect. However, if I hadn’t read the book first, I don’t think I would have understood this movie very well. The beginning is quite abrupt and offers little explanation, and Mameha’s appearance has no apparent reason at all.
I did enjoy seeing the descriptions of the kimonos, instruments, the style of dance, and the types of architecture described in the book within the movie. I could only picture so much of what was described without the visual aide of the movie. Some of the scenes are breathtaking, with beautiful costumes, make-up, and dancing.
Overall, the movie was pretty good in comparison to the book, not perfect, but not bad. The book was one I won’t likely forget, and the movie was stunningly beautiful on its own; a great combination.
“We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course.”
~Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden