cover image GEISHA: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance and Art

GEISHA: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance and Art

John Gallagher, . . PRC Publishing, $24.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-85648-697-2

Gallagher's contribution to the geisha book niche rises above many of its competitors, thanks to its ambitious scope. The author, an Englishman who works as a translator in Japan, closely examines a tradition and way of life alien to most outside Japan and seems to leave nothing out, covering such topics as the perception of geishas by both Japanese and foreigners, geishas' artistic and musical talents, and the organizational structure of an okiya (geisha house). Of course, there's also much about the clothes and makeup. Geishas are constructed layer by layer, both figuratively and literally. Various levels of schooling teach them to be complex, articulate and unaffectedly sophisticated while they learn to put on their clothing and makeup in equally painstaking stages. Gallagher illustrates the latter with multiple see-through vellum sections detailing each stratum of ornament, clothing article and makeup, allowing readers to grasp the inordinate amount of attention that geishas must put into their appearance. The rest of the book's photos and illustrations are frequently stunning, combining historical images and artwork with vibrantly hued, more recent photos. Because of its heft and very visual style, Gallagher's work will likely find itself classified as a coffee-table book, but anyone who merely flips through will be missing out. Gallagher's writing style is straightforward and articulate, with so much intelligence and grace, it's difficult not to be charmed. (Dec.)