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Description - Geisha by Liza Dalby

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.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099286387
ISBN-10: 0099286386
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 26mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 28-Sep-2000
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - Geisha by Liza Dalby

UK Kirkus Review » The 'flower and willow world' of the Geisha is devoted exclusively to 'pampering the male ego' and is described in detail by Dalby, an American anthropologist, the only foreigner to become accepted into this close sisterhood and be given a Geisha name, Ichigiku. She weaves cultural references - history, politics, social history, and Japanese humour - with personal experiences into a fascinating web that makes the reader feel as though they have slipped quietly through a secret door into a cultural milieu, unfamiliar and completely alien to Westerners. The subtleties and customs of Japanese tradition are exposed through her own close relationships with her Geisha 'sisters', and through their contact with the men who employed them. Geisha (literally, 'artist') are trained in etiquette, speech, deportment, classical dance and music, and are hired by men to provide wit and entertainment while their wives live quietly at home. This curious split in women's roles is much misunderstood, seen as it is through the eyes and reference points of our own cultures which mistakenly equate Geisha with prostitution. And although studied eroticism and sex are a part of it, Geisha defies such narrow perspectives. They are very much their own women! At one time Geisha were the innovators of Japanese tradition. Now, as Western influences creep in, they are the curators of this formalized, almost stylized femininity with its emphasis on maintaining image and iki (Japanese chic). In an uncomplicated style this book lures the reader into the mood and subtleties of Geisha so that one almost 'tastes' and therefore 'knows' what Geisha means, rather than being given a neat intellectual definition. Dalby introduces this extremely formal living culture to its cultural opposite with a delicate, almost old-fashioned flavour, quite appropriate to the subject, but with meaty detail and deep insight. An utterly compelling read. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » A graceful, acute, often moving study of geisha life that does credit both to Dalby's Stanford training as an anthropologist and to her Kyoto training as "Ichiguku, the American geisha." Her own story, indicatively, emerges bit by bit. In the same way, modulating and blending, she answers the most persistent questions about the geisha: are they prostitutes? are they chattel? - putting the questions in proportion and perspective, incorporating them into a "web of significance." (Readers will not need to be reminded of Roland Barthes' Empire of Signs.) We first hear about Dalby's geisha family in Pontocho, the "flower and willow" quarter on the bank of Kyoto's Kamo River: her shrewd ex-geisha oka-san, or geisha mother; her giddy one-san, or older sister, Ichiume (22 to Dalby's 25 - and, horrifically, burned to death in a fire the year after Dalby left). "The 'mothers' of the teahouses, where geisha are employed, are the real businesswomen and entrepreneurs. The geisha are the 'daughters' of these women, living their private and professional lives as older and younger sisters to each other." To customers and other outsiders, "Pontocho is an entire world created for the delectation of men. That is the point, of course, to make them feel that way." (Wives, by contrast, are expected to forgo socializing, sexiness, careers.) It is a life of "glamour and discipline," Japanese-style. "What is the mysterious training a new geisha goes through in order to attend banquets? None other, I discovered, than gaining the experience to converse and joke with men, mostly older men." (Favored customers are witty and charming in turn.) Each Kyoto geisha cultivates an art (gei art + sha person) - classical dancing, singing the traditional nagauta or kouta repertoire, playing the shamisen - to perform not only at banquets, but in elaborate showcase productions. (At a resort area, contrastingly, the geisha party "reeks with prurience" - while "Most Tokyo geisha take apartments" and value the glamour over the art.) Dalby also expands on the historical development of the geisha from "fashion innovators" to (in the 1930s) "curators of tradition"; on geisha chic, "within the subtle limits of Japanese traditional women's dress"; on methods of payment, social "hypocrisy," aging-with-style, men and sex. (One rich, lifelong patron is the norm - with perhaps a boifurendo on the side.) Today? Fewer recruits, a foreshortened apprenticeship, some raveling at the edges; but not yet a relic. More than a fascinating array of facts: perspicacious and haunting. (Kirkus Reviews)

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