Geisha, A Life: The True Memoirs
Mineko Iwasaki was interviewed by Memoirs of a Geisha author, Arthur Golden, while he researched information for his novel. She told him a great many things about her own personal life as well as the life of a Geisha in the Gion Kobu of Japan’s Kyoto. Their agreement was that her involvement with his research would remain confidental. Her name was then referenced in the acknowledgements and many of the events in his main character’s life would show a dangerous closeness to her own. Many more facts would be twisted and changed, revealing a very inaccurate view of the world of a Geisha. Mineko sued Golden and their case was settled out of court. This link about Mineko Iwasaki gives the whole story.
This novel: Geisha, A Life, is the story of Mineko Iwasaki as she recalled it. The story has a much less surreal feel to it than Golden’s Memoirs but in place of that mystical air, there is something much more concrete in Mineko’s words, something more familiar. This story is real and you can feel it in the way she remembers events, details, and people, and in the way she tells her story.
Mineko was not born a Geisha, or as they are more commonly referred to in the novel, a Geiko. In fact, quite unlike Sayuri in Golden’s novel, Mineko chose to become a geiko of her own free will. She even chose to relinquish her family name of Tanaka and become officially adopted by the Okiya owner as an Iwasaki. She then became the heir to the establishment.
The novel recounts her life from the early age of three. It shows a brief glimpse into what her Tanaka-family life was like until she left for the Iwasaki okiya at age five. We then journey through the strange transition into the life of an atotori, or heir, during which she is practically treated like a young princess. The story continues through vivid memory of her lessons with Big Mistress at the very prestigous dance school.
At fifteen she became a maiko, a young-woman training to be a geiko. This transition brings many stories of pain and embarassment as many older geiko and other maiko harassed Mineko to the point of humiliation. You get a clear image of the career and what a maiko must undergo from visiting the hairdresser to being dressed for public appearances to visiting the ochaya, or teahouses, to perform her job as a high-class entertainer.
The journey continues as Minkeo “turns her collar” to become a professional geiko. She crosses now into the world of entertaining heads of state such as Prince Charles and President Ford and many others. We see the loves of Mineko’s life and how her relationships impacted her dancing. Because first and foremost, Mineko was a dancer.
This book depicts a very different lifestyle than that which we are accustomed to here in America, but she details everything so clearly that it’s perfectly understandable. It’s interesting to read through and see exactly where Golden got the idea for one or another character or situation in Memoirs of a Geisha. It’s very easy to see how some of these facts were misrepresented in his novel, as well.
I did however thoroughly enjoy reading Memoirs of a Geisha and seeing the contrast between the true account and fictional account. I would encourage any who read one to read the other. Both are beautifully written.
Geisha, A Life recieves a 5 out of 5. And there’s no doubting why Mineko’s story has made the New York Time’s Best Seller List.