Memoirs of a Geisha

Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

Reason read: Confessional – this is a reread for me. My sister loaned this book to me back in 1997 and I haven’t given it back. However…my rule is if I can’t remember the ending of the book, I have to reread it for the Challenge. So, in honor of Japan’s Culture Day on November 3rd, I am rereading Memoirs of a Geisha.

The concept of Memoirs of a Geisha is brilliant. One of Japan’s most celebrated geisha decides to tell her life story from the beginning. Even as a very young child Chiyo Sakamoto was smart. She knew her mother was dying of cancer and her father was too elderly to support her future. A chance encounter with Mr. Tanaka Ichiro put Chiyo and her older sister on a much different trajectory than if they had stayed in their poor seaside village. At nine years old because of her startling gray-blue eyes, Chiyo is sold into a geisha house. There she is forced to live like a 18th century scullery maid, catering to the glamorous geisha of the house. Another chance encounter, this time with a wealthy businessman nicknamed the Chairman, leads Chiyo to becoming one of the most famous geisha in all of the Gion geisha district.

Line to like, “I was just a child who thought she was embarking on a great adventure” (p 96).

Author fact: Golden started his Japanese journey studying the culture’s art.

Book trivia: Everyone knows Memoirs of a Geisha was a national best seller and was made into a movie in 2005. What people may not remember is that Memoirs of a Geisha was Golden’s debut novel. Pretty spectacular.

Nancy said: Pearl compared Memoirs to Snow Country as a romantic portrait. In the More Book Lust chapter “Men Channeling Women” (p 166), Pearl includes Memoirs in a list of good books.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Japanese Fiction” (p 131), and More Book Lust in the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166). As an aside, Memoirs of a Geisha could have been included in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages” as it is Golden’s first novel.


Amigoland

Casares, Oscar. Amigoland. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.

Reason read: November 1st is Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Welcome to the elderly world of brothers Don Fidencio and Don Celestino. Sustaining through years of stubborn memory are so long ago fabled events that the brothers cannot come to an agreement of truth. At the center of their debate is the brothers’ grandfather and a terrific century-old tale of kidnapping, murder, scalping, a ranch called El Rancho Capote, and a bear in a circus. The story is so fantastic, and each memory is so faulty, it has taken on a life of its own. So much so that Don Celestino’s much younger paramour (and housekeeper), Soccoro, convinces the brothers to take a trip to Mexico to settle the debate once and for all. Soccoro and Don Celestino spirit Don Fidencio away from his nursing home without medications, identification, or money. The both heartwarming and heartbreaking problem is time is running out for both cantankerous men (Don Fidencio is over ninety). The moral of Amigoland is when you tell a story long enough it becomes fact, even if your memory is faulty.

As an aside, I would not know anything about the game of Bunco (mentioned in Amigoland if it weren’t for a friend of mine. She plays Bunco with a group of women once a month.

Author fact: Casares is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop

Book trivia: Amigoland is Casares’ first novel.

Playlist: Narcisco Martinez

Nancy said: Pearl called Amigoland “warm and funny.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Postcards from Mexico” (p 183). As an aside, Pearl could have included Amigoland in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages.”


Three Junes

Glass, Julia. Three Junes. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.

Reason read: November is National Writing Month so I chose Three Junes in honor of the category of debut novel.

You start Three Junes by following widower Paul McLeod on a guided tour of Greece where he meets a woman who will change the course of his life. Six years later Paul’s passing brings his sons, Fenno, and twins, Dennis and David, to Scotland for his funeral. Fenno, a normally reserved New York West Village gay man, faces a family he barely knows while remembering a father he has always wanted to know better. Both of his brothers are married and living very different lives. The mourners who approach Fenno present difficult choices. For a good chunk of the book Fenno’s story is told in first person, bouncing back and forth in time as we follow his complicated relationships with cerebral friend, Mal, dying of AIDS and sexy photographer, Tony, who remains uncommitted despite near daily sexual encounters.
Speaking of Tony, he appears in the last chunk of the book as Fern’s lover. This relationship circles the story back to Paul, as Fern was Paul’s chance encounter in Greece. Artfully written, Glass plays with chronology and people’s emotions. You want unreachable resolutions and conversations that don’t or won’t happen.

Quote I liked, “There the letter ends, as if he wrote himself over the cliff” (p 55).

Author fact: Three Junes is a debut novel for Julia Glass.

Book trivia: “Collies,” the first section of Three Junes was originally a novella and earned Glass the 1999 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella.

Playlist: “Flowers of Scotland,” “Gone Away,” Gome to the Ground,” “Skye Boat Song,” Lotte Lehman, Pavarotti, Streisand, Bee Gees, Gershwin, Porter, Jerome Kern, Gene Kelly’s “‘S Wonderful,” Kenny Rogers, Stravinsky, Copeland, Hendrix, Holiday, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan, Elton John’s “Daniel,”, Maria Callas’s “Violetta,” Bette Midler, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, “100 Years From Today,” and “And If I Were Like Lightning.”

Nancy said: Pearl included Three Junes in her list of “wonderful books.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages” (p 158).


Ruby

Bond, Cynthia. Ruby. London: Hogarth, 2015.

Reason read: this is an Early Review book from LibraryThing. Note: I was supposed to receive this back in January(?) I think. It actually came (overly packaged) in the mail on May 16th. I don’t know how I feel about reviewing a book that has first, already been published, then has been reviewed hundreds of times and also been selected for the “Oprah Book Club 2.0”. Seems a little been-there, done-that. But anyway…

Here’s what others are saying about Ruby: powerful, bittersweet, evil, angry, difficult, confusing, heavy. They also say the language is gorgeous. I would agree but I think it’s too much so. I found Bond’s writing style to be too lyrical, too lush. People speak in unnatural ways. Who says “she too stiff a tree”? It’s that otherwise beautiful perfume that someone wears a little too liberally; took a bath in it, as they say. I got a little weary of trees spying on people and clouds muttering.

Ruby, told from the perspective of several different characters (the crow was my favorite), is a violent and tragic story. How to otherwise describe Ruby? Everyone seems to be a little off kilter. There is black magic in the air. Celia has been taking care of her adult brother for so long they both have forgotten their proper familial hierarchy. He calls her mama. Ruby has been abused since she was five (warning: those abuses are spelled out in detail); everyone in town seems to be out for blood because everyone has a story.

Since this is already out and about I feel okay quoting from it. Here is a line that shouldn’t be missed, “Hope was a dangerous thing, something best squashed before it became contagious” (p 132). Made me think of Emily Dickinson’s “hope perches in the soul…”

Author fact: Ruby is Cynthia Bond’s first novel. She has spent time teaching writing to homeless and at-risk youth. That is beyond cool.

Book trivia: Ruby was selected by Oprah’s 2.0 Book Club (Oprah.com/bookclub). But, I said that already.