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Crescent Blues Book ViewsVintage Books; Random House (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0679781587)

Kneel to pour the tea, but not in the visitor's lap. Too much arm revealed? Tease with a bit of the delicate wrist: the lily's pistils extending from the petals. Does the white paint come off at night?

Book: Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a geisha
Jakob Haarbuis, the Arnold Rusoff Professor of Japanese History at New York University, lends his expertise to this evocation of the private life of a renowned Kyoto geisha.

Geisha are made, not born, molded patiently like a vase from translucent porcelain, watered a thousand times to refine its quality, and then ornamented in exquisite detail like the elegant lines drawn on a white mask.

Nitta Sayuri once lived in a little tipsy house atop the cliffs of the Sea of Japan in the village of Yoroido. Her father, Sakamoto Minoru, a poor fisherman, exemplifies the qualities ascribed to wood, one of the five primary elements of Oriental philosophy. Wood is the tree growing from the side of the cliff and the essence of the boat that keeps the fisherman safe and brings him back to shore. Wood grows into a twisting, knotty form before strong winds. Its roots cling to life. But the personality of Sayuri's mother contains too much of another primary element, water. Water flows and cannot be stopped. Restless, it seeks a new path over a stony bed and slips away to be free. Sayuri's original name reflected this: Chiyoâ Chiyo, a girl with eyes of too much water.

Can a split lip affect fate? The day Chiyo met Mr.Tanaka encompasses the best and worst of times. With her mother on her deathbed, Chiyo runs to fetch something for her father and falls in front of the Japanese Coastal Seafood Company where Mr. Tanaka reigns as the company director. He smells of the struggling fish trying to escape their fate. Indulging in childish fantasy, Chiyo promises the voiceless creatures, "You're going to Senzuru, little fishies! Everything will be okay," because she can not accept their white-eyed terror.

Book: Arthur Golden, die geisha
How could she know, this girl with eyes of too much water, that she swims through life no differently than a fish?

Shortly after her encounter with Mr. Tanaka, Chiyo's father sells her to a Kyoto geisha house, where the young girl runs afoul of the head geisha Hatsumomo. Why should Hatsumomo want her as an apprentice? Why not use the stupid fish-girl for revenge against her lovely rival, Miss Perfect, Maneha? A bottle of ink, a stolen kimono and the tactics of a jealous diva nearly destroy Chiyo. Who would apprentice a run-away servant? Who will pay her the debts? Unless Chiyo fetches a high price for her mezuage, a geisha's sexual initiation, she cannot redeem herself.

Although Chiyo turns her collar and changes the obi from apprentice to geisha -- and her name from Chiyo to Sayuri -- she can only dream about buying her freedom. To be an independent geisha -- that can never be. What she earns, the okiya takes. She owns nothing. Although Sayuri life brings her in contact with men, perhaps no man will want to claim her as his.

Who knows? For beneath the white mask of the geisha the layers of paint blend seamlessly until it becomes impossible to determine where the mask ends and life begins.

With cinematic skill, Arthur Golden fills the stage of his first novel with the exotic players of an oriental drama. With a plot that rivals Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, the reader becomes engrossed in the action, unaware of turning yet another page as he or she follows the twists and turns of the stream of Sayuri's life as it searches its path over a stony bed.


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