Monday, October 5, 2009

Geisha, A Life - Mineko Iwasaki

Geisha, A Life
Mineko Iwasaki and Rande Brown
Washington Square Press
Copyright Date: 2003
978-0743444293

The Amazon.com description:
No woman in the three-hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story -- until now.

"Many say I was the best geisha of my generation," writes Mineko Iwasaki. "And yet, it was a life that I found too constricting to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave." Trained to become a geisha from the age of five, Iwasaki would live among the other "women of art" in Kyoto's Gion Kobu district and practice the ancient customs of Japanese entertainment. She was loved by kings, princes, military heroes, and wealthy statesmen alike. But even though she became one of the most prized geishas in Japan's history, Iwasaki wanted more: her own life. And by the time she retired at age twenty-nine, Iwasaki was finally on her way toward a new beginning.

Geisha, a Life is her story -- at times heartbreaking, always awe-inspiring, and totally true.

Geisha, A Life was recommended to me when I read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden a few months back. I finally got around to borrowing it from the library (it was on the recently returned shelf) on an impulse last week.

It was an interesting book, I have to say, although the similarities to Memoirs Of A Geisha were very strong. Geisha, A Life is written by Mineko Iwasaki, who was one of the top Geisha throughout her career. As a result, it's an enlightening window into that segment of Japanese society, albeit the top level of the society.

I've seen a few comments about how unrealistic it was for Mineko to be able to decide at such a young age that being a Geisha is what she wanted to do. I disagree. I had a friend who decided at the age of four that he wanted to be a violinist. And he succeeded. Perhaps it's unusual, but not impossible.

There is a sense in this book that Mineko is part of a rapidly disappearing society, which makes for an interesting atmosphere.

Geisha, A Life was an interesting read, and I may have to go hunting for more books on the subject. Memoirs Of A Geisha caught my imagination, and this book has only whetted my interest even more. A world where an adult can get by without any of the normal skills? Money and it's value? Cooking (the disasters Mineko manages to create are just plain amusing), etc.

I know very well, that although this is a world I find interesting to read about, I wouldn't want to live in it. Mineko lives a life of privilege, but from the start, she's been at the top of her society. How different was it for less fortunate Geisha? That's one thing this book (and, for that matter Arthur Golden's novel) doesn't really go into.
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