Archive for October, 2007

This lovely book is very heartwarming and charming. It was originally published in serial form in a newspaper, and you can tell this by the way it is written, with pointed breaks in the narrative.  (This is an observation, and not a criticism.)

The basic story centres around the inhabitants of the various flats at 44 Scotland Street, in Edinburgh. In one flat we have the egotistical Bruce and his new flatmate Pat, who is sweet and compassionate. In another flat is Domenica MacDonald – intelligent and intuitive. Then we have Irene and Stuart Pollock – determined to provide the best possible future for their five year old son, without being able to see that they are not allowing him to enjoy the present.

The book also tells the stories of other people in their lives – Pat’s gentle but unmotivated boss, Matthew; Bruce’s colleagues and boss; Domenica’s friend Angus Lordie; and Bertie’s psychotherapist, Dr Fairbairn. 

There is an ongoing storyline concerning a painting in the gallery where Pat works, which may or may not be very valuable, but really this book is a gentle narrative of these people’s lives.  I found myself really starting to warm to several of the characters, who were all very well depicted, even if they did seem in danger of becoming a little stereotypical at times.

Overall, this is a perfect read for kicking back and relaxing with – gentle and humorous.  I’d certainly be happy to recommend this one.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I loved this book, and wish that I had read it earlier. It tells the life story of Chiyo, who is sold as a child and despite a very tough beginning with her new ‘family’, becomes a hugely successful geisha named Sayuri. It is set with WWII as a backdrop, and the book also charts how the war affected not only the geisha trade, but life in Japan as a whole. We also learn how through Sayuri’s life, she craves the love and affection of one man in particular, from when she was a child to when she was a woman. Life is not easy at first for Sayuri. Forced to leave her family behind, she is treated like dirt by the people with whom she goes to live, and the older geisha Hatsumommo in particular, makes her life extremely difficult.

It is narrated by Sayuri, and it is easy to forget that this is not an autobiography, but rather a fictional (albeit factually correct) account of this woman’s life. It is difficult to believe that an American man wrote this book. Sayuri is a very sympathetic character, even if some of her actions are hard for a Westerner living in the 21st century to relate to – I found myself rooting for her the whole way through.  She was well drawn and utterly believable – as were all the characters, including Sayuri’s nemesis Hatsumommo.  Ironically, the one character who I felt was not as well depicted as the others was Chairman Ken, who Sayuri fell in love with.  I loved Mameha – another geisha, who took Sayuri under her wing.

The writing is wonderfully descriptive, and it really immersed me in the time and place where the book was set.  Some fantastic prose, which was a joy to read purely for the sake of reading it.

Overall, this was a fabulous book, which is also hugely informative about the traditions and rituals involved in becoming a geisha. As a result of reading it, I have ordered three non-fiction books about the history and life of geisha.

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