The Amazon.com product description:
Ever since Westerners arrived in Japan, we have been intrigued by geisha. This fascination has spawned a wealth of fictional creations from Madame Butterfly to Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha". The reality of the geisha's existence has rarely been described. Contrary to popular opinion, geisha are not prostitutes but literally "arts people". Their accomplishments might include singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument but, above all, they are masters of the art of conversation, soothing worries of highly paid businessmen who can afford their attentions. The real secret history of the geisha is explored here.Bought and read as part of my latest enthusiasm of reading about the Orient. An enthusiasm I'll admit I've had at a lower level for a while - thus the reviews of Memoirs of a Geisha and Geisha: A Life last year.
Lesley Downer has a very easy style of writing: she captured my interest right away and kept me reading late into the night when I first got the book a couple of weeks ago, and then again when I picked it up once more last week. She's mixed in accounts of her own experiences in the pleasure quarters as she tried to learn about the Geisha and their lives. This is all blended in with the history she discovered, descriptions of their lives today, brief histories of various famous Geisha throughout Japanese history and guesses about the future of their traditions.
Definitely an eye-opening book that is also a faster read than it appears to be at first glance. If you liked Arthur Golden's novel, I'd bet you'd find Geisha: The Secret History Of A Vanishing World to be an interesting read as well.
Lesley Downer has also written fiction set in Japan as well, most notably (and recently) The Last Concubine, which I'd also like to read.