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Autobiography Of A Geisha

By Sayo Masuda

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Format: Paperback, 224 pages
Published In: United Kingdom, 01 February 2004
The glamorous world of Kyoto's geisha is familiar to many readers. This autobiography presents a different view, one that bears little resemblance to the elegant geisha at a hot-springs resort, where the realities of sex for sale were unadorned by the trappings of wealth and power. Masuda was sent to work as a nursemaid at the age of six and was sold to a geisha house at the age of 12. In accordance with tradition, she first worked as a servant while training in the arts of dance, song, shamisen and drum. In 1940, when she was 16, she made her debut as a geisha. Very few geisha have written their memoirs, preferring to fade into obscurity. Although she had never gone to school and could barely write, Masuda undertook to set down her story. Motivated by the desire to tell the truth about life as a geisha, she responded to a national magazine contest - and won. The article later grew into a book. Remarkable for its wit and frankness, the book is a moving record of a woman's survival on the margins of Japanese society - and in the words of the translator is, "the superbly told tale of a woman whom fortune never favoured yet never defeated".

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'This engrossing and very human story...offers the reader a compelling portrait' Arthur Golden

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About the Author

Sayo Masuda died in 2008. The translator G. G. Rowley teaches English and Japanese literature at Waseda University in Tokyo. She is the author of Yosano Akiko and The Tale of Genji.

Reviews

Masuda's account of being a geisha in rural Japan at a hot springs resort is at once intriguing and heartbreaking. There is nothing idyllic in her description of geisha training or life between the world wars. Born in 1925, Masuda was sent to work for a wealthy landowner when she was five. At 12, she was sold to a geisha house for about 30 yen, the price of a bag of rice. During those years, Masuda writes, "I wasn't even able to wonder why I didn't have any parents or why I should be the only one who was tormented. If you ask me what I did know then, it was only that hunger was painful and human beings were terrifying." Originally published in Japan in 1957, where it is still in print, this book grew out of an article that Masuda, who didn't learn to read and write until she was in her 20s, submitted for a contest in Housewife's Companion magazine. Her picaresque adventures as a geisha, then mistress, factory worker, gang moll and caretaker for her young brother offer an impassioned plea for valuing children. "Never give birth to children thoughtlessly!" she writes. "That is why, stroke by faltering stroke, I've written all this down." (May) FYI: While Arthur Golden's fictional Memoirs of a Geisha (1997) continues to be the yardstick against which all other books on the geisha world are measured, Masuda's account is a worthy complement. Readers interested in this culture will probably have already seen Atria's Geisha, a Life (Forecasts, Sept. 9, 2002) and Gotham's Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha Who Bewitched the West (Forecasts, Jan. 20). Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"This most recent geisha boom comes with a difference. While Golden's novel skillfully utilises, and feeds into, clich-s of the Madame Butterfly variety, these two new publications can be seen as part of an attempt...to break the gendered orientalist gaze and unravel some enduring stereotypes. Masuda's gripping, heart-rending and humorous account is a gem, especially as it offers a view "from below" of the untold social history of modern Japan" * Times Literary Review * "An unvarnished firsthand look into the world of a woman who unflinchingly relates the bitter struggle of her geisha existence in pre-World War II Japan. This is a fascinating and heart-rending tale" -- Liza Dalby "Masuda's account of being a geisha in rural Japan at a hot springs resort is at once intriguing and heartbreaking. While Arthur Golden's fictional Memoirs of a Geisha continues to be the yardstick against which all other books on the geisha world are measured, Masuda's account is a worthy complement" * Publishers Weekly *

EAN: 9780099462040
ISBN: 0099462044
Publisher: Vintage
Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.8 x 1.4 centimetres (0.16 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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1 review(s)
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Jade on
 
This book will open your eyes after reading Holden's fiction as well as the other autobiographies. Theres no allusions; just a frank, honest and downright depressing account of the fate that awaits those who aren't as fortunate as the elite few.

The writing style isn't as poetic as the other texts but the translator does admit that the author had a basic grasp of written language.

This is my favourite geisha text. It dispels some of the myths and makes for very enlightening reading.

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