The first thing you notice about the audio version of Memoirs of a Geisha
is that Arthur Golden's 428-page novel has been reduced to a scant two cassettes. But dismay quickly gives way to mounting pleasure as Elaina Erika Davis (Contact
, As the World Turns
) begins her delicate rendering of geisha culture in the years before the second world war. Davis reads the abbreviated story of Sayuri with an authentic-sounding Japanese accent--one mixed with a magical combination of Asian reserve and theatrical energy. As Sayuri ages from a 9-year-old peasant girl to a popular geisha in her late 20s, Davis directs her voice gently away from curious youth to a tone that reflects Sayuri's uphill life.
From start to finish, the listener is absorbed in the elegant spirit of Davis's performance, eager to hear the next chapter of Sayuri's transformation into one of the most famous geishas of the century. How unfortunate, then, to learn that book readers not only get the basic story, but a fascinating look at the intricate rules and rituals of geisha culture. Here, for example, is one of the many revelations omitted from the cassette: "Japanese men, as a rule, feel about a woman's neck and throat the same way that men in the West might feel about a woman's legs .... In fact, a geisha leaves a tiny margin of skin bare all around the hairline, causing her makeup to look even more artificial .... When a man sits beside her, he becomes that much more aware of the bare skin beneath."
We're also denied several subplots--the aborted friendship between Sayuri and a geisha named Pumpkin, for example, or much of the story involving the man Sayuri is secretly in love with. But what remains is as precious as a traditional Japanese kimono--at once artistic, suggestive and moving. --Ann Senechal
--This text refers to the
"'Intimate and brutal, written in cool, lucid prose it is a novel whose psychological empathy and historical truths are outstanding' Mail on Sunday
"'Endless and fascinating-a narrative that is both gripping and beautifully paced-a wonderful read' Observer
'This is a high-wire act- Rarely has a world so closed and foreign been evoked with such natural assurance' New Yorker
"'Memoirs of a Geisha
' is the sort of novel that novel-lovers yearn for, which is to say, so convincing that while reading it you become transported to another time, another place, and feel you're listening and seeing with someone else's ears and eyes' Margaret Forster"