AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A GEISHA

Sayo Masuda, Author, G. G. Rowley, Translator
Sayo Masuda, Author, G. G. Rowley, Translator , trans. from the Japanese by G.G. Rowley. Columbia Univ. $24.95 (216p) ISBN 978-0-231-12950-3
Reviewed on: 03/10/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Paperback - 185 pages - 978-0-231-12951-0
Paperback - 185 pages - 978-0-09-946204-0
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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).

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