Category: Study & Reference / Sociology
Publication date: 28 September 2000
Number of pages: 384
Liza Dalby, author of The Tale of Murasaki, is the only non-Japanese woman ever to have become a geisha. This is her unique insight into the extraordinary, closed world of the geisha, a world of grace, beauty and tradition that has long fascinated and enthralled the West. Taking us to the heart of a way of life normally hidden from the public gaze, Liza Dalby shows us the detailed reality that lies behind the bestselling Memoirs of a Geisha and opens our eyes to an ancient profession that continues to survive in today's modern Japan.
The 'flower and willow world' of the Geisha is devoted exclusively to 'pampering the male ego' and is described in detail by Dalby, an American anthropologist, the only foreigner to become accepted into this close sisterhood and be given a Geisha name, Ichigiku. She weaves cultural references - history, politics, social history, and Japanese humour - with personal experiences into a fascinating web that makes the reader feel as though they have slipped quietly through a secret door into a cultural milieu, unfamiliar and completely alien to Westerners. The subtleties and customs of Japanese tradition are exposed through her own close relationships with her Geisha 'sisters', and through their contact with the men who employed them. Geisha (literally, 'artist') are trained in etiquette, speech, deportment, classical dance and music, and are hired by men to provide wit and entertainment while their wives live quietly at home. This curious split in women's roles is much misunderstood, seen as it is through the eyes and reference points of our own cultures which mistakenly equate Geisha with prostitution. And although studied eroticism and sex are a part of it, Geisha defies such narrow perspectives. They are very much their own women! At one time Geisha were the innovators of Japanese tradition. Now, as Western influences creep in, they are the curators of this formalized, almost stylized femininity with its emphasis on maintaining image and iki (Japanese chic). In an uncomplicated style this book lures the reader into the mood and subtleties of Geisha so that one almost 'tastes' and therefore 'knows' what Geisha means, rather than being given a neat intellectual definition. Dalby introduces this extremely formal living culture to its cultural opposite with a delicate, almost old-fashioned flavour, quite appropriate to the subject, but with meaty detail and deep insight. An utterly compelling read. (Kirkus UK)
What the papers say:
"Liza Dalby, as the only foreigner to ever have become an actual geisha, knows more about the subject than I'll ever know, and she writes about it with grace and eloquence" -- Arthur Golden, Author Of 'memoirs Of A Geisha' "A loving, beautifully designed tribute to one of Japan's most tantalising traditions... Geisha offers intriguing glimpses into Japanese politics, culture and history" Newsweek "The authoritative work on the geisha. It is filled with facts and history, shot through with insights and understanding. Her working as a geisha, her experiencing their world, is responsible for the breadth of her understanding" New York Times Book Review "Elegantly balanced...beautifully constructed...invigorating and refreshing" Washington Post Book World "A meticulously researched work of scholarship, but is also a delightfully personal account of Dalby's year among the geisha. Geisha remains [Dalby's] best-known work and is the bible of geisha studies to this day" Times Literary Supplement
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