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Book Reviews

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Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha
Arthur Golden
Alfred A. Knopf, $25

Review by Ann Hastings

Web posted on: Monday, May 25, 1998 3:37:06 PM EDT

(CNN) -- If you want to immerse yourself in a complex and mysterious culture, read Arthur Golden's first novel, "Memoirs of a Geisha". Steven Speilberg just bought the rights to this novel, a wise move since the story is full of vivid images and brisk action.

The story follows the life of a young Japanese girl, Chiyo, as she is sold into slavery during the Great Depression. It begins in a small fishing village as the 9-year-old's father sells her and her sister, Satsu, to a local businessman. Because of her unusual grey eyes, Chiyo is then sold to an okiya, a geisha house, while Satsu is sold into prostitution.

It is amazing that Golden, an American male, has so eloquently portrayed the life of a Japanese geisha. He captures the emotions of his characters perfectly while describing Japanese life.

Chiyo initially rebels. But when she learns that her sister has escaped without her and her parents have died she accepts her fate. She struggles to find independence within the strict world of the geisha and climbs to the top of geisha society, only to crash during World War II. She then starts over and finds independence through her patrons.

Golden fills the book with vivid images and subtle descriptions of the nuances of Japanese culture, and is absolutely brilliant in his description of the customs and rituals of the geisha. Through the meticulous detail the reader can fully understand the politics, rivalries, and traditions of the Japan geisha society.

But while Golden captures your attention with information, this is also the book's minor downside. With so much detail you almost get bogged down by the numerous definitions of Japanese terms. But if you hang in, the action picks up and you will start to cheer for Chiyo as she continues her struggle. Golden explores the concept of freedom within a slavelike society as Chiyo uses her brains more than her beauty to make an independent life for herself.

If you are interested in Japanese culture or in a girl's quest for independence, you must read this book.

Ann Hastings taught history for three years before joining CNN NewsSource as an archivist.

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