Memoirs of a Geisha :: Arthur Golden

Prior to reading this book, I had almost no knowledge of Japanese geisha or much of Japanese culture. This book however, corrected this, giving me an insight into Japanese culture, ethical and moral and spiritual beliefs and standard of living – perhaps not quite a modern perception but a perception nonetheless.

Arthur Golden seems to be able to capture the essence of the lifestyle of a geisha of Kyoto, without necessarily ‘overdressing’ it, instead, carefully tracing the chronological journey of a young girl riding the waves of adversity that she is met with during the course of her youth and adulthood. It is interesting to read the work of such a skilled author – the language is simple, yet it evokes such a clear image of the world in my mind – so much so that I felt as though I had experienced it all, through someone else’s body, through someone else’s senses.

The strength of the main character (Sayuri) is admirable and with such a detailed account of her life, every action of hers is justifiable and understandable (given her history) thus adding a layer of realism to the novel. As I read the book, I seemed to follow the realisations that Sayuri has of the world around her – some of which I have already learned from personal experience, some of which I have heard word of – thanks to the euphemisms of tumblr :)

Quote One :: Confidence

I had learned of this in primary school, from my inconsistent observation skills during a drama task

A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory. Two men are equal – true equals – only when they both have equal confidence.

Quote Two :: Future & Past

I have heard these kinds of things being said countless times but not quite in this particular way – I have to say, it struck me as quite fascinating when I first read it.

Nothing is bleaker than the future, except perhaps the past.

Quote Three :: The Bright Side of Life

Always look on the bright side of life…dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum de dum de…

This song has made me feel even happier in times of happiness, but it has never made my hardships seem not so ‘hard’. Interestingly, it is thoughts of the past and the future that allow me to truly appreciate the present.

I need to be reminded that there is beauty and goodness in the world

Quote Four :: What Isn’t There

I am a dreamer. That is not to say I am not practical or realistic about present actions, but when thinking of the future, I tend to set unrealistic goals and expectations, and sad as I am to admit this, I waste endless hours thinking of how amazing my future could be – the key word being waste. Unfortunately, this time and energy comes out of my application in the present into dreaming of the future, instead of making it happen. This book was a wake-up call, one of those learning experiences gained from observing someone else’s mistake. Needless to say, the following quote had the most impact on me as a growing person.

From this experience I realised the danger on focussing on what isn’t there. What an unbearable sorrow it would be, to realise I’d never really tasted the things I’d eaten, or seen the places I’d been, because I’d thought of nothing but the Chairman [future] even while my life is drifting away from me. I would be like a dancer who had practiced since childhood for a performance she would never give.

Some fun facts about the publication of the novel itself:

Controversy followed the release of the book and the misleading link made within the book between prostitution and Japanese geisha.

It’s supposed to be fiction… but, after the Japanese edition of Memoirs of a Geisha was published, Arthur Golden was sued for breach of contract and defamation of character by Mineko Iwasaki, a retired geisha he had interviewed for background information while writing the novel. The plaintiff asserted that Golden had agreed to protect her anonymity, if she told him about her life as a geisha due to the traditional code of silence about their clients. However, Golden listed Iwasaki as a source in his acknowledgements for the novel.

In 2003, Golden’s publisher settled with Iwasaki out of court for an undisclosed sum of money. Iwasaki later went on to write her own autobiography, an account vastly different from Arthur Golden’s novel, published as Geisha, A Life in the US and Geisha of Gion in the UK.

Please note that I did in fact, use this Wikipedia page to write part of this post.

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The Help :: Kathryn Stockett

After studying To Kill a Mockingbird , I decided that some educational reading was not to be missed and picked up The Help (of which a Oscar nominated film was made in 2011 – may I also add that this film was super entertaining also :)

Kathryn Stockett’s practical, direct and often humorous writing provides a near-perfect account of the events of the imaginary town of Jackson, Missippi. The three perspective – Skeeter & Aibileen & Minny – offers varyin points of view of the discrimination and injustice suffered by the African-American domestic servants of Jackson. Not only does this allow us to view (‘see’) events as both the victim and perpetrator, it reveals the true rigins of such extreme attitudes causing the attitudes.

Possibly the weirdest thing I like about this book is that it odes not immediately incriminate the ‘White-Americans’ of Jackson but rather, it presents them in a slightly negative light, always giving reason for their discriminatory actions. It’s interesting how the childhood of “Aibileen’s children” is shown to be completely innocent and prejudice-free but as they grow older, they become influence by the society they are surrounded by and the behaviours they are exposed to.

One of the most memorable events from the book, personally, was Skeeter’s “simple error” in a newspaper advertisement resulting in the deposit of numerous toilets on the front garden of Miss Hilly – the antagonist in the novel. It reiterates a concept shown in many texts – that the ‘evil’ ones are perhaps, the most resourceful – I guess, kind of similar to a quote I read online: “The Devil can cite the Scripture for his own purpose.”

Another prominent motif in the book is the boundaries in society and the origins of them. It is presented in two instances: the first, in which Minny and Aibileen discuss the ‘lines’ that they encounter and the second, explaining types of jails, both physical and psychological.

Example One :: Lines

I used to believe in em. I don’t anymore. They in our heads…Lines between black and white ain’t there neither. Some folks made those up, long time ago.

Example Two :: Jails

I think about Yule May setting in jail. Cause Miss Hilly, she in her own jail, but with a lifelong term.

Just as a side not, these quotes are directly from the novel and the language is that of the African-American domestic servants of then Southern America. It is important to note that in this case, “setting” means “sitting”. May I just add, that Yule May is a servants who had stolen from her employer in an attempt to get an education for her children – hope you have a better understanding of the quotes – and the book – now :)

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close :: Jonathan Safran Foer

I ALWAYS read the book before I watch the novel – almost since I could remember…

until a few weeks ago.

I rented Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and expected quite a good film. What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer volume of tears I shed during the course of the film and afterwards. Astounded by the emotional scope of the film, I decided to ask Lord Google if in fact it was bassed on a book and sure enough, it was. Not only was it a book, but my I recalled a friend of mine recommending it to me. And so, I ventured to the library and came home with a copy.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close :: Book Cover

It took me a while to finish it, mainly because at times, the book was often uneventful but I did end up finishing it end I found it quite an enriching experience. Before I go any further, for those who haven’t read the book or watched the movie, here is a good synopsis.

I found it quite interesting that the book had multiple perspective and at the beginning, their unrelatedness was very confusing and frustrating – especially for me as I have an obsessive need to organise and connect things I learn :) This technique was novel to me at the time that I read it and I found that once the stories did connect, it gave me a better understanding of the individuals within the text. It also helped me realise the relationship between experience and personality (in this post) and I found that it helped make the characters seem more real, by including both their flaws and their positive attributes in an unbiased voice.

The writing voice and style of this novel captured the feelings and thoughts that often, we can’t express through simple words. Emotions that are too complex for organised sentences and yet, this book does just that, through the scattered thoughts of a nine year old boy, and old man, and an old woman. It’s this distillation of emotions that sets this books apart from others into a category of raw and pure writing.

Notably, this and extremely well written novel but evidently, also a well edited one. It is the first novel that I have read that directly represents the characters feelings or thoughts through intermittent graphics (apart from The Invention of Hugo Cabret) and although some reviews found it useless, adding nothing to the plot, I found that it was helpful and gave me insight into the way the characters thought and acted.

Overall, this novel was entertaining and educated me on the truths of experiences of New Yorkers in the 9/11 attacks – some of which I was completely unaware of, and opened me up to a new level of emotional writing with both depth and flair.

Fahrenheit 451 :: Ray Bradbury

It is a classic, that I know. It marked the beginning of the lovable genre of Science Fiction but apart from these limited, loose facts my knowledge about this novel prior to my reading it, was at best, rudimentary. Admittedly, I was doubtful about the usefulness of reading it. At first, the title didn’t really speak to me. I mean, it’s an extremely high temperature measure but apart from that, I gathered nothing (being the dimwitted girl I am).

Boy was I in for a surprise.

As a science-fiction/dystopian novel, it had the tell-tale cautionary aspect in the narrative, hinted at throughout the book. What I interpreted, is the repeating of mistakes previously made. The war, although not highly prominent in the book, recalls the wars we have had in the past and the wars we currently wage and to hear this message from a book set in the future, reflects our nature and the way we think. As a collective, we cannot stop making the same mistakes over and over again, and personally, an an individual neither can I.

The writing style of book is simply divine. Subtle, descriptive but not over the top, detailed enough to paint a picture, detailed enough to let the imagination run wild…you can tell I’m in love :) In particular, Beatty’s speeches are highly entertaining and in some cases, quite closely reflects the society we live in today – I have to say that I expected this but didn’t realise the significance of the similarities until after I finished the book.

It is a novel about burning books and of course the inevitable quotes to other texts cropped up continually. Having not had an extensive reading history myself, most of these went right over my head and yet, I still understood the underlying meaning of the text.

I also think it’s interesting that the books themselves are not deemed important by the ‘educated’ of the society. It is their content and the knowledge that it carries as opposed to the physicality of it. This idea connects to the importance of books (giving us experiences and knowledge without us, as the audience, having to actually read it) but also links to a popular source of conversation in the society of 2012. With the rising popularity of the Kindle and other e-book readers, has come the rising indignation from the book-lovers and library goers of our community, who adore the smell, the flipping of pages, the holding, the folding and the idle browsing in libraries like old friends. I have to say, I don’t share these feelings (you can see them in action here and here) but I am on the fence on this matter.

With all this in mind, let me tell you this – Fahrenheit 451, must be read – but be prepared to read between the lines as well. One must be prepared to submit to the desire to eagerly deciphering metaphors when one reads the likes of Ray Bradbury ;)