Memoirs of a Geisha – The Novel

When I was in Japan two months ago I saw for the first time in my life geishas and maikos in person. Watching them perform their art strengthened my appreciation for these relics of Japanese culture. Upon my return I wanted to learn more about them, so I became more receptive to books or novels related to the subject. Perhaps one of the most prominent literature featuring a geisha is Authur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha.
Memoirs of a Geisha follows the transformation of a fictional rustic girl into a symbol of feminine grace and elegance. The novel can be roughly divided into two halves; the first half contains the girl’s struggle to become a geisha, the latter half chronicles her experiences as a geisha and the pursuit of her love. I thought the first half of the novel was the strongest. The girl, Chiyo, suffers in very unfortunate circumstances. She has her childhood forcibly removed from her, and she works very hard, with no appreciation, and worse is cruelly treated in return. There is a powerful sense to cheer for Chiyo to succeed. The first half would have been suspenseful, if the reader did not know of her eventual calling. However, the answer already lies in the title of the story. We know she will be come a geisha, only the matter of how entices. In the second half the story, the years passes by much quicker. In fact, the years passes faster and faster as the book nears its end. There were less details in the second half, and felt more loosely written. Sayuri, Chiyo’s geisha name, has a second more uncertain goal, but it is not nearly as sympathetic as her first.
Of course, Sayuri’s life does not represent the lives of geishas in general, but the environment and the culture that surrounds her has some verity to them, if Golden’s research and sources are indeed credible. I found Memoirs of a Geisha particularly insightful in that aspect.
The next step is to watch the movie to see how it compares to the novel.

Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 10:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kino no Tabi – Book one of The Beautiful World

For years I have heard an overwhelming majority of praise for Kino no Tabi, but I never acted upon their recommendations. Finally, however, in order to qualify for free shipping for an online book order, I picked up the first light novel of Kino’s Journey.
I am indifferent towards the main characters. Kino’s naive morals are disagreeable to me, but fortunately, bond by a wise advice, she does not force her values onto anyone, no matter how unpleasant a custom might be for her. Hermes, Kino’s talking motorcycle, comes across as simply another voice, and is lacking in personality. It is the first novel, so perhaps future books will flesh out its character.
As the title implies, the novel follows the adventures of a young girl named Kino. She is a perpetual wanderer, and any city, town, or establishment she encounters she tries to the best of her efforts to only stay for three days. While Kino and Hermes are at a speck of civilization, they, and the reader, inadvertently learns about its history, usually explaining the peculiar culture and behaviors of the location. But because Kino and Hermes are there for a fleeting three days, and also each account of a city lasts a mere twenty-five to fifty pages, the description and history of each city are explicitly stated and very brief. I prefer novels where its world is slowly but surely constructed, using not only history lessons like in Kino’s Journey, but through more taciturn ways such as the atmosphere, the character themselves and their interactions, or the occurrence of certain events. By the end of such a novel a detailed and vivid world is painted, and there is a sense of satisfaction to be had in having seen the gradual composition of a complex world.
Kino’s Journey offers not depth, but rather breadth of locale. The pair visits many quirky places and people, and romantic perspective taken by the main characters strives to highlight the beauty in the sights they see.

Published in: on September 5, 2008 at 11:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Brave New World

Cover of Brave New World, Vintage Canada 2007.

I tackled yet another book on the list of The Modern Library’s one hundred best novels. Huxley’s Brave New World, thematically similar to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is another take of the human future under advanced governmental control. As Atwood described, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a harder evolution of totalitarianism, while Brave New World is a softer one. While Nineteen Eighty-Four forced societal conformity through spying televisions, thoughtcrime, and room 101, Brave New World does it through more indirect ways. In Brave New World babies are manufactured, and conditioned from the moment of their artificial conception to love their work. Sex is only recreational, and promiscuity officially enforced. Plentiful entertainment is available, and if there is any left over or unpredictable stress, there is always the drug soma, bliss in a pill. The civilized society in Brave New World aimed at trying to attain and maintain happiness, after all, happy workers, well, work, ensuring the functioning of social order, and unhappy ones do not.
Honestly, Brave New World‘s civilization sounds kind of enticing. I think I might enjoy living in such a social order for a short amount of time, maybe even up to a year or two. But permanently is out of the question, as there is too much free will, and manifestations of it such as individuality, and art, lost for social stability. Both novels highlight this enduring theme to serve as warning of our progress into the future.
Another society nearly antithesis to the civilized society is explored in the Brave New World. There is a group of primitive people that resembles old world Indians. When individuals from the civilized society visited their reservation, they were either amused or appalled at their practices, which included rituals of bloody sacrifices, viviparous offspring, and old age. And yet ironically, when a young man from that tribe was brought to civilized society, he was shocked and sickened by civilized conventions, such as the lack of marriages, the children conditioned to be untroubled by death, and the ease of escape from hardships. It underscores another truth: deviancy depends on a set of standards. In fact, major factors considered in defining abnormal psychology are the cultural backgrounds of a person and the environment.
I like Nineteen Eighty-Four more because its harsher world disturbed me, and still do, while Brave New World did not leave a similar level of emotional impression. Nevertheless, Brave New World is a very good book, prominent among works of utopias and dystopias.

Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 9:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Scrapped Princess – Requiem for the Infidels

Volume three novel cover.

The third novel volume of Scrapped Princess contained the story of the fake Scrapped Princess, which provided the story arc of episodes nine and ten of the anime. Comparing the episodes to the novels, again as I first observed before, most of the nastiness in the novel are lessened or removed in anime. It is a main theme of difference between the novels and anime, and this makes the novels the more potent medium. Also, another difference I noticed in this volume was that Pacifica actually physically fought against enemies. In the anime I remember the only punches Pacifica threw was at Shannon. It was revealed in this novel that Pacifica was taught some basic movements of self-defense, and without going into too much details, she put that modest training to use to protect Raquel. Yes, you heard me correctly, to protect Raquel. Of course, Pacifica had the benefit of being enchanted with a buffing spell that gave her powerful armor and immense strength. Which makes me wonder, how come in the anime Raquel never casted a similar spell like that on Pacifica at times of danger? It would have increased Pacifica’s chances of surviving and make her a somewhat more formidable combatant. It’s a heck of a lot better than helplessly hiding behind their wagon, or a tree, or some object all the time. Anyways, Requiem for the Infidels was the longest Scrapped Princess novel released so far. Each novel of Scrapped Princess was always a welcome read. See you next volume, Pacifica.

Published in: on April 24, 2007 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Not Even Wrong

Not Even Wrong, Basic Books hardcover.

I have an interest in string theory, not so much in the theory itself, but more about the scientific controversy around it. It is this curiosity that prompted me to read Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong. The book is half history of particle physics, and half criticism of string theory. The history comes first, so if one expects to immediately delve into the topic of string theory, one may find that section a tedious read. However, when focus finally falls on string theory, I soon realized the worth of the recollection. Knowing the background and context leading up to and surrounding string theory gives a deeper, if not essential, understanding to the situation of string theory. Peter Woit talks a lot about theories and constructs, and necessarily so to support his arguments. I wish he included some actual mathematics as examples to better capture and/or explain those concepts, but I understand he wrote this book for a more general population, and I certainly felt he did the best he could in elucidating the ideas using only words. He does give many references to other titles should one wants to further explore a particular topic. Peter Woit is an expert in the field of theoretical physics, as such, his criticism is piercing and his reasoning rigourous. He remonstrates not only the flaws of string theory, but its defenses as well. Not Even Wrong is a very convincing critique against string theory, a view I leaned towards to before I read it, and after, my stance has solidified. His blog of the same name contains news and discussions of theoretical physics with an anti-string theory slant. Would be string theorists, give this book a read before you decide to embark your career on this scientifically questionable subject.

Published in: on February 2, 2007 at 9:22 pm  Leave a Comment