Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Memoirs of a geisha - even better on re-reading

For nearly all the members at November's group meeting, this was our second read of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a geisha. An exceptional debut novel - we wondered if he'd published anything notable since, and no, he seems to have published nothing at all! But there was general agreement that producing one really good book is better than a long list of mediocre ones any day.

It was most of all the authenticity of the narrative voice that impressed the group: how could it be that an American man could so convincingly write as a Japanese woman? It was dreamy and detailed. It was also a tremendous history lesson, and about a piece of Japanese life that was very little known.

Geishas were basically sold into slavery as children - this description was harrowing - but could attain a level of power and status. Men though, were fully in control and the sexism of Japanese society was notable.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


October's book choice was Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. A "whodunit" set in the 1950s against the background of Japanese-American immigration.

The quality of the prose, the multilayered depth of the plot and the new perspectives it explored meant that Guterson's book was enjoyed by all of the group and universally recommended. His characters were well drawn and had a humanity that you immediately empathised with.

Karen pointed out that the courtroom, which plays such a pivotal role in the novel, is a popular device in American literature/film. Margie thought that this was maybe due to it being one of the cornerstones of American life. Guterson seamlessly moved from story to testimony; handling the movement back and forward in time with deceptive ease.

Many of the group thought that the depiction of snow was especially well rendered and compared it to books such as The Tenderness of Wolves. Janet put forward the idea that the coldness it brought to the town was a metaphor for the effect the death of a local fisherman had on an apparently well integrated community.

A lot of discussion centered around the effect the war with Japan had on many of the characters and how Kabuo felt as a soldier fighting for a country that didn't really accept him. This then broadened out into a wide ranging debate on World War 2 - America's reaction to Pearl Habour, the cost in lives if nuclear bombs hadn't been used to end fighting, Shetland's Role of Honour, Britain's multicultural inheritance following the war and break up of the Commonwealth.

An enjoyable and thought provoking novel.