Friday, November 18, 2005

Remembering the novel Memoirs of a Geisha

"...Now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper." - Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

i have kept a copy of the paperback for more than a year now, but it was only two weekends ago that i decided to sift through its pages. it was one of those cold saturday evenings of trying to stay awake and my mind, full of entrapments set by my own imagination. in an attempt to avoid that sullen state, i realized that i have shelved the book for so long and thought that i might as well indulge in prosaic musing, thinking that it may teem with slow paced narration of ancient Japanese way of life...boorish, unexciting, plainly hermeneutic.

it started with a preface, an interview with the heroine, Sayuri. at the prime of her life, Sayuri agreed to tell her story to an unknowing writer to reveal the lifestyle of one of the most misunderstood beings to have lived...the geisha. to those who do not have an idea of what a real geisha is, first thing that comes to mind is that she's a prostitute...albeit the elegance and sheer perfection, the overall perception is rather reproachful and deprecating. in an attempt to change this notion, Sayuri tells her story.

Sayuri, the little girl with exotic blue gray eyes, was named Chiyo. she lived with her sister and parents in a poor fishing village and led a most poignant life. to a nine-year old, the banal lifestyle of a fisherman's daughter seemed everything in the world for her, not until when her mother got critically ill. upon the doctor's instruction, she was tasked to run an errand that had caused her to face a future in the company of the most provocative characters and events that changed her life altogether.

even before her mother passed, Sayuri and her 15-yr old sister Satsu were sent to the city of Gion, sold to become a geisha and a prostitute respectively. Sayuri's destiny was slowly carved out for her as she struggled emotionally each day, longing to be together once more with her family. the day of reckoning, however, came as she received a letter and a package that brought the news of her parents' death and the destiny which her sister chose to follow. this made the little Chiyo envisage a future that she had to decide upon despite her youth...the choice was between life and death...between bete noir and elan...iki shini ...ofcourse, she chose life...the life of a renowned geisha.

this enthralling story brings its readers a powerful narrative, a visual representation of a spellbinding journey to becoming au fait.

a geisha is specially trained in "ancient dance, singing, playing instruments such as the Shamisen, flower arrangement, wearing kimo no, tea ceremony, calligraphy, conversation, alcohol serving manners and more. "

now the art of seduction is also something else...sensuous, yet simple... ingratiating, yet pleasantly restrained. who ever thought that the flesh under a woman's forearm can be alluringly seductive, so that a slight show of the forearm while pouring tea can disarm the most stolid onlooker? or a moment's glance at man's eyes can cause him to stumble?

certainly, a geisha may look like any other, but Sayuri was different...even as a young child, her unusual blue gray eyes caught the attention of many, and earned the envy of those who shared in the same trade. the Chairman was one such man whose attention she caught as a child, Sayuri's love whom she secretly followed throughout her life.

i finished the book in two days, not wasting a single waking moment after that i started conning over its pages. there were times that i found myself crying as i felt the sorrow of a young helpless child being taken away to a place she never knew of...the pain of losing one's parents at a tender age...the fear of having to survive a most cruel environment where beauty and grace are ironically nurtured to perfection in order to prevail. i guess i'm simply daunted by the fact that in time, i may have to leave my precious one, my daughter, behind in order to pursue a life that will eventually make things better for us both...

i was curiously enchanted by the narration of a man (Arthur Golden) behind a woman's voice. i didn't even realize that it was a man who made the story, even til the end =) the emotions that i felt were very womanly...soft, yet fiery and undaunted...fearsome, yet audacious and resilient.

the story, though a fairy tale, was skillfully told so that a surprising twist unfolds in the end. i was deeply engrossed by the details, but somehow, at the back of my mind, i too was secretly hoping for Sayuri's real feelings to be found out by the Chairman so that they find everlasting happiness...but that would be an easy and predictable ending, wouldn't it? even if it ended that way, it is noteworthy to say that he was nonchalant almost all throughout the story! Golden was successful in shifting the mind of the reader, making the predictable, unpredictable!

i can't wait for the movie to be shown here in manila. the magic of Spielberg, Marshall and Golden combined is something worth looking forward to...


ting-aling said...

ha, sinabi mo na lahat. I don't need to read it anymore

Jet said...

Alam mo Joyce pareho tayo. I too have a copy of Memoirs but for the longest time, I haven't read it... hehehe. Now you make it sound so tempting! I know it's showing here any day now, if it isn't yet. I hope I have time to read the book before I see the movie. The movie versions are know to have the habit of delivering less than par, don't they? I hope not this time.

joyce said...

hi ting!
well, could be...but you have to read it to enjoy it =) for every heroine, there's a villainess...and i didn't mention much about her here...dapat mong mabasa dahil masarap siyang sabunutan at pagsasampal sampalin hehehehe

hi jet!
from what i read so far, after having seen an advance screening, some critics find it too short, na bore sila. i can understand...americans are not too keen on traditions =) i think it will be showing on the 23rd there in the US. kaya basahin mo na =) don't wanna be disappointed, do you? =)

rolly said...

I've also read the book a couple of years ago. Kaya lang hiram lang sa kaibigan ko. If I'm not mistaken, idinemanda rin nung Geisha si Golden. i don't recall exactly why pero it's how he portrayed a Geisha daw or something like that. Well, I read it in 2001. i guess walang nangyari sa demanda kung natuloy isapelikula, right?

joyce said...

yes sir!
dinemanda siya ni Iwasaki who's supposed to be the prime resource person of Arthur Golden. On my part, it was clear to me that the story was fiction. Iwasaki didn't like the idea that the geisha was portrayed like a prostitute... well, in my point of view, the story was beautifully told. ang ganda nga ng image ng geisha dun sa story...siyempre, kelangan ng drama para bumenta yung book, so Iwasaki's story had to be told in a different light. well, you're right...binili na ni Spielberg ang rights so the case may have died a natural death already hehehe

Anonymous said...

i haven't read it yet. but i'm gonna read it :)

rolly said...

Merry Christmas to you and your little angel.

joyce said...

hi mari!
Merry Christmas! yes, it's worth the read. but after seeing "crouching tiger..." and "the house of flying daggers", can't help not to associate Zhang Ziyi with the Chinese...that goes for Michelle Yeoh (who's Malaysian, i think) as well.

joyce said...

hi sir!
Merry Christmas to you, your loving wife and children. Miss ko na christmas sa zobel =(