Before reading Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, I read a magazine interview with Mineko Iwasaki, who was interviewed extensively by Golden as part of his research. The interview mentioned that Iwasaki was suing Golden for misrepresenting her and the geisha. The geisha in his novel are highly-paid prostitutes as well as graceful entertainers, which was not Iwasaki’s reality, although it may have been for other geisha. She sounded like an interesting person, so after reading and enjoying Memoirs, I bought Geisha of Gion.
If you read both books, you will see a great similarity between the fictional life of Sayuri, and the reality of Mineko Iwasaki. Their childhoods and careers as geisha are almost identical. Ultimately, although Golden’s tale is more dramatic, rich with imagery, and emotionally evoking, I preferred Iwasaki’s memoirs, as I felt they provided more of a fascinating look into the real world of the geisha (or geiko, as Iwasaki explains they were called in her society), as well as an explanation for their shrinking place in the modern world.
The real woman is not so preoccupied by love as her fictional counterpart, she is more career-minded, but she is not wholly serious. One of my favourite parts of this memoir is about when she decided to move out of her geiko house, leaving her servants and adoptive family, and barely knew how to survive in her own flat.
Some readers see Mineko Iwasaki as arrogant, but I disagree. I think she is simply proud of her achievements and talks about them to show how much she gave up when retired. Iwasaki had a very high social status inside the world of the geisha, and achieved fame, but outside it meant nothing, and although she tried to change this, she was unsuccessful. She retired young, dissatisfied and disappointed.
This is an interesting and at times very funny book. I would recommend it particularly to those who read and enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha.