Memoirs Of A Geisha – Arthur Golden

Memoirs Of A Geisha - I thought it would be boring but, turns out I was wrong!

Memoirs Of A Geisha – I thought it would be boring, but turns out I was wrong!

This is the story of Chiyo Sakamoto, better known by her geisha name of Nitta Sayuri.  As a young girl, Chiyo is sold to an okiya (boarding house) in Gion  which is where her miseries begin.  Bullied by their housemate Hastumomo, Chiyo and her friend Pumpkin dream of becoming famous geisha in order to escape the life of a servant.  More importantly, Chiyo longs to find the Chairman, the only adult to have shown her true kindness since she arrived in Gion.

Several years later Chiyo is chosen as the protégé of Mameha, a beautiful and clever geisha who is also Hatsumomo’s greatest rival.  As Mameha plans to destroy Hatsumomo’s career she pays extra attention to Chiyo’s (by now known as Sayuri) development.  Through their work as geisha, Mameha and Sayuri once again come into contact with the Chairman and his business partner Nobu. BUT WILL THE CHAIRMAN REMEMBER HER?

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Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love In The Time Of Cholera - an epic love story

Love In The Time Of Cholera – an epic love story

Love in the Time of Cholera is a story about the relationship between Fermina Daza, a well educated but impressionable girl and Florentino Ariza, a wildly romantic, impulsive boy. Their love affair begins when they are teenagers.   Florentino notices Fermina in the street and pursues her with love letters. The couple only ever see each other in passing; their love is conducted through notes and letters until two years later, when her father Lorenzo discovers their affair and decides to take Fermina on a trip, to return only when she has forgotten Florentino.

Fermina stays with her family on this trip, and her cousin Hidebranda helps her to re-establish contact with Florentino once again, through telegraph.  Yet, two years later she returns and declares she wants nothing more to do with him, instead consenting to marry Dr Juvenal Urbino, whom her father greatly approves of.  Upon hearing of their marriage, Florentino initially vows to save his virginity for Fermina, content to wait patiently for the doctor’s death.

Years go by and Florentino gives in to his desires, starting hundreds of affairs which he conducts in secret, in order to make Fermina believe he is waiting for her. This can never discuss with Fermina as once again, they only see each other in passing at public events.

Meanwhile, Fermina’s marriage is unhappy, through infidelity and distrust.  We follow their lives for fifty years until the doctor suddenly dies.  Upon his death, Florentino once again declares his love.  Finally Fermina reciprocates.  They sail off on a trip together, raising the yellow flag on board their ship.  This flag represents a cholera outbreak, meaning no port will let them dock and they are forever exiled together, sailing the river.

It has been suggested that the cholera of the book’s title is a metaphor for lovesickness.  This is a constant theme throughout, especially as Doctor Urbino works tirelessly to eradicate the disease.  When, at the end the yellow flag is raised, this is symbolic of Florentino’s complete surrender to his condition.

What I liked about this book is that the characters are flawed.  We witness two people desperately trying to move on with their lives yet failing without each other. We follow Florentino on his countless affairs, relationships, loves and one night stands.  Yet throughout he is dissatisfied as none of these women are Fermina.  We also witness Fermina with her snobbery, trying to be happy with the doctor and their place in society, yet never quite achieving true happiness until the end.

Sample Text:

“With her Florentino Ariza learned what he had already experienced many times without realizing it: that one can be in love with several people at the same time, feel the same sorrow with each, and not betray any of them. Alone in the midst of the crowd on the pier, he said to himself in a flash of anger: ‘My heart has more rooms than a whorehouse.”

Further reading:

If you like the long awaited romance you might like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

100 Years Of Solitude - you'd better learn your Aurelianos from your Jose Arcadios

100 Years Of Solitude – you’d better learn your Aurelianos from your Jose Arcadios

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the epic tale of the Buendia family.  The patriarch, Jose Arcadio treks across Columbia to create the Utopia he has dreamed of, the town of Macondo.  The story follows seven generations of the Buendia family and the extraordinary events that involve them and their town.

Although there is a clear historical time frame for this novel, its magical realism style means that it could quite easily be set any time.  The idea of Macondo is to create an ideal, a town which allows it’s settlers to invent a world according to their own ideals.  However, over the following generations, people leave and then return to the town, bringing the outside world, railways and wars with them.  This is a story of people trying to escape their own history, but throughout the story there is an impending sense of doom.  Somehow, the reader knows that the residents of Macondo will never quite manage the peaceful existence they have dreamed of.

The first three generations of the Buendia family are clear, individual characters.  However, by the time the third and forth generations are introduced, the numbers have increased significantly so it’s difficult to remember who is who, even more so by the seventh generation.  The copy I read had a family tree printed in the front which was invaluable, especially as the Buendia family follows traditions of naming their children after their ancestors.  As a result, there are, I think 5 characters named Jose Arcadio Buendia and 22 characters named Aureliano Buendia.  Admittedly most of these are minor characters, but it can still get very confusing without a family tree.

This is one of the best known novels from Latin America, and deservedly so.  It’s incredibly ambitious yet works really well.  There is humour in here and romance and a whole sweeping history of Macondo.  The reader really gets a sense of how mighty oaks from little acorns grow.  The original Jose Arcadio Buendia had such a heroic ideal for Macondo, but his naivety and idealism were soon squashed by the arrival of the outside world.

Sample Text:

“In that Macondo forgotten even by the birds, where the dust and the heat had become so strong that it was difficult to breathe, secluded by solitude and love and by the solitude of love in a house where it was almost impossible to sleep because of the noise of the red ants, Aureliano, and Amaranta Úrsula were the only happy beings, and the most happy on the face of the earth.”

Further reading:

If you like magical realism you might like The War of Don Emmanuels Nether Parts

If you like this author you might like Love In The Time Of Cholera

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon.  Pulp fiction at it's best

The Maltese Falcon. A good ol’ dose of pulp fiction.

Private detective Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer are hired by Miss Wonderly to trail a man, Floyd Thursby who has allegedly ran off with their client’s sister.  When Spade receives a phone call informing him that Archer has been killed, and then Thursby also he finds himself the police’s chief suspect.

What ensues is Spade’s attempts to solve this case.  Is Miss Wonderly who she claims to be?  Who was Floyd Thursby really?  Who is Joel Cairo, who arrives in Spade’s office offering $5,000 for the acquisition of a bird figurine? And what is the value of this ‘Maltese falcon’?

I don’t want to spoil the story by discussing any of these questions, but suffice to say, this is a good old-fashioned private detective who-dunnit story.  Ok so the characters are not especially believable, stereo-typed as they are, but that doesn’t matter here, this isn’t supposed to make you think.  There’s no deeper meaning to these characters, it’s all just for entertainment purposes.  And for that, it’s great.

Sample Text:

“Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of
his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were
horizontal. The V motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down–from high flat temples–in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.”

Further Reading:

If you like the pulp fiction genre you might like The Book With No Name

If you like a who-dunnit you might like The Girl With A Dragon tattoo

If you like a mystery story you might like Rebecca

The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton

the-outsiders-by-s-e-hintonS.E. Hinton was a teenager when this book was written.  It was written as a reaction to a friend being beaten up because of the way he looked.  Since then it has become a ‘must read’ across American high schools, one of whom campaigned successfully for Francis Ford Copolla to turn it into a film.  Not bad for a teenager.  Perhaps more surprising is that S.E. Hinton is a girl.  The publishers decided to use only initials as they thought if the readers knew it was by a girl they would doubt its authenticity.

The story is essentially Ponyboy’s story.  He is a ‘greaser’ – the greasy quaffed haired, denim clad gang from the wrong side of town. Their rivals are the ‘socs’ – the society boys with neat hair, slacks and money.  When Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny are beaten up by the socs, their self-defence means they have to run away, leaving behind Ponyboys brothers Darry and Sodapop and the rest of their greaser friends.

This is a very easy story to read, and not too long either.  I chose to read it purely because I’d liked the film and was surprised by how true to the book the film is.  It’s heartbreaking at times as the greasers try and get by in life without any trouble, only to find trouble finds them anyway due to their lowly standing in society.  Yet the bond between them is so strong they form their own ‘family’, with all the responsibilities, irritations and loyalties that entails.

It’s clear from the outset that things are not going to end happily for the greasers, they live in a world where dreams are useless, condemned to the vicious circle of poverty and repression with only each other for company.  Yet, as readers we get to see how they really are, the people rather than the image.  It’s an important lesson to learn, perhaps explaining why it’s on the curriculum for so many US high schools; don’t judge a book by its cover. (I’m not talking literally of course; I judge books by their cover all the time!)

Sample Text:

“That’s why people don’t ever think to blame the Socs and are always ready to jump on us. We look hoody and they look decent. It could be just the other way around – half of the hoods I know are pretty decent guys underneath all that grease, and from what I’ve heard, a lot of Socs are just cold-blooded mean – but people usually go by looks.”

Further Reading:

If you like the theme of teenagers trying to fit in you might like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

If you like the setting of small-town USA you might like Rabbit Run