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Geisha [Paperback]

Liza Dalby
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Sep 2000
Liza Dalby, author of The Tale of Murasaki, is the only non-Japanese woman ever to have become a geisha. This is her unique insight into the extraordinary, closed world of the geisha, a world of grace, beauty and tradition that has long fascinated and enthralled the West. Taking us to the heart of a way of life normally hidden from the public gaze, Liza Dalby shows us the detailed reality that lies behind the bestselling Memoirs of a Geisha and opens our eyes to an ancient profession that continues to survive in today's modern Japan. (2000-09-02)

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Geisha + Geisha of Gion: The True Story of Japan's Foremost Geisha: The Memoir of Mineko Iwasaki + Autobiography Of A Geisha (Vintage Original)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (28 Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099286386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099286387
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 13 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 244,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

In the mid-1970s, an American graduate student in anthropology joined the ranks of white-powdered geisha in Kyoto, Japan. Liza Dalby took the name Ichigiku and apprenticed in the famed Pontocho district, trailing behind "older sisters" bemused by this long-legged Westerner intent on learning their arts and customs. In Geisha, this observant ethnographer paints an intoxicating picture of the "flower and willow world" to which she gained entry. "Why are you studying geisha?" asks one slightly belligerent older sister. "Geisha are no different from anybody else." Not quite, says Dalby dryly, pointing out that geisha and wives play utterly divergent, though complementary, roles in traditional Japanese society. "Geisha are supposed to be sexy where wives are sober, artistic where wives are humdrum, and witty where wives are serious." While hardly feminists, they reap freedoms unknown to other women. Dalby illustrates broader cultural differences, too, with a million tiny details about boisterous customers, how many hundred-weight of tabi (split-toed socks) geishas go through, what defines iki (chic), why maiko (young apprentices) are drawn to the life, and what geisha wear, from the skin out. Acknowledging that her growing personal stake in the masquerade prevented objectivity, Dalby frees the reader to enjoy a fluid and fascinating look at one aspect of Japanese culture. --Francesca Coltrera


"Liza Dalby, as the only foreigner to ever have become an actual geisha, knows more about the subject than I'll ever know, and she writes about it with grace and eloquence" (Arthur Golden, Author Of 'memoirs Of A Geisha')

"A loving, beautifully designed tribute to one of Japan's most tantalising traditions... Geisha offers intriguing glimpses into Japanese politics, culture and history" (Newsweek)

"The authoritative work on the geisha. It is filled with facts and history, shot through with insights and understanding. Her working as a geisha, her experiencing their world, is responsible for the breadth of her understanding" (New York Times Book Review)

"Elegantly balanced...beautifully constructed...invigorating and refreshing" (Washington Post Book World)

"A meticulously researched work of scholarship, but is also a delightfully personal account of Dalby's year among the geisha. Geisha remains [Dalby's] best-known work and is the bible of geisha studies to this day" (Times Literary Supplement)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous insight into the world of Geisha 12 Feb 2002
By A Customer
After reading 'Memoirs of a Geisha' I became somewhat enchanted by this magical world of Geisha. Since then I have read many (both fictional and non-fictional) books on this subject. Liza Dalby's 'Geisha' is a truly fabulous look into the historical background and changing nature of these women. At times the prose tends to read a bit like an essay or dissertation and you get the feeling that she has tried a bit too hard to include pompous and sometimes unecessarily 'flowery' language often with complex and overpowering sentence structures. The book would simply not be the same though without these aspects, it is after all not a novel about Geisha. Once you get used to re-reading parts that are especially thick and in-depth the book does become more enjoyable. This is a highly intelligent and educational book, though, which may account for some of the opulent grammar and language. Having said that, I particularily like the inclusion of photographs to highlight certain parts of the text. The factual content is, however, one of the best I have come across. If 'Memoirs of a Geisha' inspired you to find out more about the customs, traditions and rituals involved in a Geisha's life then this is a wonderful book for you. Although, I would recommend reading 'Memoirs of a Geisha' first as a 'taster' as this might be a bit heavy for those who do not have the craving to learn more about the intruiging world of Geisha.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
After reading many reviews of this book, I do feel that people have misunderstood it. Just to get one thing clear, this book isn't some romantic work of fiction like 'Memoirs of a Geisha', it reads more like a text book with some personal experiences thrown in.

I don't think Liza Dalby ever meant to become a geisha in the formal sense, she was there to do research for a dissertation or thesis of some kind on the subject. Many people have pointed out that her attending social occasions as a geisha without having years of training etc makes a mockery of the whole profession. This could not be further from the truth.

Liza Dalby writes with intelligence and emotion and provides the reader with one of the most informative works on the subject that I have encountered. She covers every subject from the history of the geishas, to the instruments they play and how they dress. The book can be quite heavy going at times, but it is worth sticking to. If you are a fan of 'Memoirs of a Geisha' (as I am), then this is certainly worth checking out.

Another book worth checking out is 'Geisha of Gion' by Mineko Iwasaki.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fact, not Fiction! 27 May 2007
This is a very interesting book that gives a valuable insight into the world of geisha. As a more accessible text based on an anthropologist's study, it achieves an in depth look at history, tradition and the geisha world of thirty years ago from the point of view of an outsider who became accepted into the Pontocho community. It is well written and presented in a format that can be dipped in and out of with ease, with excellent notes, glossary and indexing.

Unlike some other reviewers on this page, I have read and re-read this book, and frequently use it for reference. The background information about such topics as the different geisha districts in Kyoto, geisha names etc. is excellent in helping the reader's greater understanding of the subject.

I would recommend following up this book by reading the autobiography "Geisha of Gion", by Mineko Iwasaki, which is a highly personal account by the leading geisha of the 1960s, in contrast to Dalby's more objective study.

Readers, please remember that Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" is fiction! If you are looking for "racy" fiction, full of vague details about "oriental life", this is NOT the book for you...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Factual and touching 24 April 2006
I have to admit, I never had much interest in any part of Japanese culture before, and then Memoirs of a Geisha came out as a movie, and I was intrigued, I did enjoy the book but I was now hungry for the truth behind the idea of what became a bestselling fiction. This book was my answer, a facinating look with western eyes at such an amazing and rich history. Liza Dalby chronicles an amazing journey that will immerse you in a world that may someday vanish.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful intro to the world of the geisha 26 Nov 2002
This book has, both very moving involving areas and historical factural areas. This helps put the reader in a better context to view, dalbys work on the geisha. It begins with a very moving moment of ichuime dalbys older geisha sisters death, and rewinds to bring the readerthrough her experinces of geihsa life and what geisha mean in japanesse culture and society.
Its well illustrated, with many graphs and photographs which are bery useful in felping the reader visualise the geisdhas stories.
Overall however she does make many comparisons to the west and this may prove and issue when studying geisha academically.
For the casual reader it is a useful insight not just into the world of the geisha, not only japanesse culture but also into the dynamic dicipline of anthropology
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'a snapshot of a particular era.' 2 Dec 2012
By Angela
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a bit dated now, but still brilliant. Of all my books on geisha, it is my favourite. A must-read for any geisha enthusiast or anyone curious.

I couldn't help but notice some other reviewers have marked this book down because they are under the mistaken impression that it is supposed to be a fictional story like 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. This really isn't the case. It is a factual account of a (then) young woman who was allowed to live amongst the geisha of Kyoto's Pontocho district while studying their traditional subculture for her PhD. So OF COURSE the book isn't going to read like a racy, exciting novel.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting.
I found this book interesting and no one could take away the fact that Liza Dalby worked as a Geisha for one year. Read more
Published 17 months ago by babes
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down
Geisha by Liza Dalby is an innovative insight into the world of geisha, told by the world's first ever foreign geisha, accepted into the ranks of a prestigious, "flower and willow... Read more
Published on 10 Jan 2011 by LolitaLaura
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good
I've been interested in geisha world for a long time. Those novels and memoirs are not enough for my hunger for this fascinating topic. Read more
Published on 8 May 2010 by Nguyen Van
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading...
This is a really interesting book written by an American anthropologist who went to Japan and actually become a geisha. Read more
Published on 18 Jun 2009 by C. Ball
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I originally wanted to read memoirs of a geisha by arthur golden but this book was the only one there at that time in my local library and i thought that it would be similar. Read more
Published on 9 Mar 2009 by MaMs
4.0 out of 5 stars Geisha
In `Geisha' Liza Dalby has managed to write a book studying the lives of Geisha and how their art developed, whilst at the same time making it flow like a novel. Read more
Published on 19 July 2008 by Spider Monkey
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful peek into a secret world
It is probably worth mentioning after reading previous reviews of this book, it is NOT fiction like Memoirs Of A Geisha. Read more
Published on 14 Jun 2007 by Catface Kupo
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a geisha at all
This book is interesting and certainly has some use in understanding the world of the geisha. However I was disappointed in some respects. Read more
Published on 25 April 2006 by Trevelyan
2.0 out of 5 stars If you like Arthur Golden's book....
You probably won't like this. As a fairly regular reader and an English literature student I didn't rate this book to highly. Read more
Published on 28 Jan 2006 by Emily,
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