Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The World According to Bob - James Bowen

'Someone had come up with the rather bright idea of having a paw-shaped stamp so that Bob could also 'sign' each book.'


You might or might not remember when I read A Street Cat Named Bob and really liked it. Well, anyway, because of that I decided that reading the sequel would be smashing. It kind of wasn't. I read this book on our trip to Isle of Skye last week and on the bright side, it was a very easy read and fun to continue every time.

The first book has James meet Bob and the two of them slowly change each other's lives for the better. This being the sequel, I only had one wish: for it to continue from where the previous one ended. It kind of does this, telling random events until ending in March 2012 when A Street Cat Named Bob makes it to the stores. However, these are short stories more than anything, and at times they're not in a chronological order and repeat some things. Additionally, sometimes he comments something like 'it was just like a youtube video', but it's just never as funny when you try to describe it, is it? Because of this, sometimes Bob's cute little shenanigans just didn't do it for me.

Most of all, my problem with this book was that it lacked the heart of the first one. It felt less sincere, in a way, because it was clear that James was observing Bob's fun mannerisms and writing them down as fun little tidbits with no real aim or a story to go through. Could I really judge a book based on a man's life for lacking a story, however? Not really. But that's the reason why I would have preferred this to be a more chronological story without all the disorienting jumps back and forth; I believe it would have made this more grounded.

The book comes with cute illustrations
at chapter breaks that relate to the
chapters! Amazing!
The World According to Bob is feel-good book, perhaps even more so than the first one. James and Bob are in a better place even though they're still selling The Big Issue on the streets, and I'm very happy about that. James' drug-induced past was a harrowing read at best and horrible at worst, and I don't mind that this book has less of returning to that. And I also understand that this had to be written while the craze from the first one was still running high, but in its heart, it was a bit of a disappointment. I'm sorry I don't have more to say about this, really, but there wasn't much that stuck with me. The quote I picked I picked because I was reaching the end with nothing to really say about it.

I'll read the Christmas book for sure as well (but that better be at Christmas!) - while this wasn't what I wanted, I still liked it. And if James and Bob ever write anything else, I'll read that too. I'll give this like... 3 and a half out of 5.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 35: There's a proper noun in a book's name!

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling

'Well, that was a bit stupid of you," said Ginny angrily, "Seeing as you don't know anyone but me who's actually been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels."
Harry remained quite still as the impact of these words hit him. Then he turned on the spot to face her.
"I forgot," he said.
"Lucky you," said Ginny coolly.
"I'm sorry," Harry said, and he meant it.'


It's taken me a while to finish this one since we've not really had lectures to walk to since the end of March. Now I find out it was the longest book in the series, with 766 pages! May have been a good thing I got the audiobook then. I finished it an x amount of time before midnight the other day while making Daniel a birthday cake.

Where do I start describing these 766 pages, then? The book starts at the Dursley's, where Harry has been kept, away from anything that's actually going on, for the summer. The Ministry of Magic has spent the whole time since The Goblet of Fire not believing Voldemort to be back, and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge, also agrees with this theory. Also, the fifth years are to take their Ordinary Wizarding Levels (a downside of the audiobook: I only figured out this acronym while writing it out now).

As a story, this book is so much grounded than the previous ones; more set in Hogwarts and focusing on the actual daily life of Harry and his friends. Make no mistake though; it's not to say not much happens in this book. I have always felt that the best part of a Harry Potter book is the world and the depth of it, the aspects of daily life that we find interesting because they're both the same and different to our own. This book, with its maybe smaller storyline, gives the story more time to talk about this part of itself, which I welcomed with open arms.

It's well-written, but that's kind of becoming a thing we just expect from J.K. Rowling instead of hoping for it. It also follow The Goblet of Fire in dealing with many more difficult subjects and proves again that the series is not (only) for children, if the length of the book wasn't enough indication on its own.

Also, Luna Lovegood is a precious cream puff who is simply too good for this world. I had so many moments while reading this where I thought, and might have said it out loud too: Luna Lovegood is so amazing. Daniel put this better than I ever good have: "Instead of those Fantastic Beast movies, you know what I want? A whole series of Luna Lovegood." For starters, one would have to explain themselves to me if they didn't find her weirdness absolutely adorable. It's also really cool that she's been able to see Thestrals ever since she first came to Hogwarts.

Harry, on the other hand, really got on my nerves in this book. Of course, he's a teenager here, and teenage angst is what teenagers do, but it was just way too much, for the whole thing. At the beginning he feels neglected, at the end he's sad and the whole way through he just keeps on complaining and complaining. He also doesn't understand Cho Chang's feelings, claiming she's like from another planet, but I swear it's only because he never makes any effort to understand or even get to know her. And then he blames her for this and expects her to come and apologise or something? He also doesn't want to see any good qualities in Snape because of his own mistakes and can't understand why Ron is made a prefect instead of him. Because the world surely revolves around Harry Potter??? This is the main reason why I rated this book a 4/5 instead of full five - Harry himself annoyed me almost all the time. This book seems to have been considered to be quite dull by many people, but I never shared that notion. I didn't even realise what a freakishly long epic I was reading before I started this review. Granted, I did start it back in February, so some of the beginning is already lost on me.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 32: A book that has inspired a work of art! Because on top of the movies, I'm sure the Harry Potter books have inspired art of all media during their lifetime and after.

I might not start The Half-Blood Prince right away because I recently found Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection on Audible and it's some 70 hours also read by Stephen Fry. I started A Study in Scarlet the other day when I finished this one and it was very good.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Metsäjätti - Miika Nousiainen

'Ennen Valtio-niminen yritys tarjosi vakaan mutta kapean leivän. Nyt valtion firmat ovat palmioita, destioita ja postikin mikä lie itella. Kun posti lakkautetaan, Jarmo saa potkut. Se on tragedia. Mutta kun Itella reagoi markkinaympäristön muutokseen niin se onkin paljon nätimpi homma, ja mahdoton ymmärtää.'

'In the past a company called The Nation provided a steady but narrow livelihood. Now firms of the nation are palmios, detias and the post too is some sort of itella. When the post is shut down, Jarmo gets fired. It's a tragedy. But when Itella reacts to the market environment changing it's a prettier thing, and impossible to understand.'
Sorry about the book being in the edge here but look at
that amazing tea!!! It was super!!!


I don't know if I mentioned, but when I was still doing my exams, I really wanted them to be over so that I could read more books. I feel like I'm making good on that wish now! Mum read this book from my shelf last autumn and has been telling me to read it since. She recently read the author's new work, Juurihoito ('Root Canal'), but I've only read his first one, Vadelmavenepakolainen ('Raspberry Boat Refugee'). Anyway!

Metsäjätti ('Forest Giant') is Miika Nousiainen's third novel, and it's mostly from the point of view of Pasi, who's left his home town Törmälä years ago and has to come back and make the plywood factory that's the heart of it more efficient. That is, to fire a lot of people. He has to try and make peace with his nagging conscience while firing people he grew up with and people who knew his family. The other POV is his old friend Janne, who, despite the fact that he's an alcoholic (maybe a recovering one though) that hasn't done much with his life, turned out to be a decent fellow. 

In Metsäjätti, Nousiainen does well what he does best; dark humour and pessimism. It's not as manic as Vadelmavenepakolainen (in which the main character really, really wants to become fully Swedish and leave his Finnish roots behind), but it also lacks some of the joy that mania brought with it. In Metsäjätti, I felt like there were very few silver linings to be found, and it made me think of how I really want some balance in my novels. Pasi and Janne often reminisce about their childhood in their separate parts, and all the people who were not happy then and are not happy now. Really the two of them seem to be the only people who have some hope in Törmälä.  

Nousiainen's works, while extremely caricaturic, are also excellent in their honest portrayal of the Finnish people. I don't know how to properly put into words something that you would have grown up with, something no one talks about but everyone knows. It's amazing that someone would actually put it into words like this, and I love that. It's novels like this that I often find myself wishing could receive an English translation, but I also understand that their beauty suffers without touch with the culture.

Also something I enjoyed, though in a reserved manner, was the finance stuff in this book - because of course I would. The book is divided into quarter years, and Pasi is an economist working for a big multinational wood company. At one point he comments on how in an emergency you wouldn't be asking for the help of a business person, and while the self-irony on his trade may have hit a bit too close to home for me, I could still appreciate the humour in it.

Törmälä is a municipality of just over 2,000 people where the people are dangerously pessimistic, afraid of change and really anything different. Many families have alcohol problems and depression just because it's how things are. And this place? It's the architype of a Finnish municipality, except even more depressed than life actually is (I hope). I'm sure at least anyone who's grown up in the Finnish-speaking areas outside of Helsinki will relate to it, and it reminded me of my home town too. Although we don't have a plywood factory, we have a plastic factory. Pipes and the such.  

'Nykyisistä asukkaista jollakin tapaa lahjakkaita on kenties seitsemän. Hyvä itsetunto on kuudella, mutta valitettavasti niiden joukkoon ei kuulu kukaan seitsemästä lahjakkaasta.'

'Out of the current population talented are maybe seven. Six have a good self-esteem, but unfortunately within those are none of the seven talented.' 

I've always thought that Nousiainen's books are very hit and miss. This one, while skilled and all, was neither for me. I gave it a 3.5/5 rounded down because I didn't like it quite as much as Vadelmavenepakolainen, and that one wasn't perfect either. Maybe that skewes the curve a little, but anyway. It was an easy, amusing read, even though it wasn't quite what I wanted. I'll most definitely continue reading his works in the future. For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 27: A book about a place where you live (or you come from)!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why - Book vs. TV show


I must admit, this actually
beats the book cover.
So as you may know, I read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher a month back, and a week ago or so, I finished watching the Netflix show that has gotten very popular since it was made. Why? I wish I knew. It really wasn't too good. If you're super into watching it in the future, some of this could be considered a spoiler, but I won't spoil anything too major (in my opinion at least).

In short, Thirteen Reasons Why is a story in which Hannah Baker makes thirteen tapes on the thirteen reasons (and people) which drove her to kill herself. The main character, Clay Jensen, had a crush on Hannah, and receives these tapes one day, meaning he's one of the reasons.

In the book, it goes like this:
*Clay receives tapes*
*Clay listens to the tapes*
*Clay sends the tapes to the next person*

It's nice and simple. The book is under 350 fairly tightly paced pages and takes place over one night, during which Clay has minimum interaction with other people and listens to Hannah's story with little to no distractions.

That's not what happens in the TV show. And that's not a surprise or anything - it's 13 episodes long, with each episode over 50 minutes. I'm sure just adapting the book would amount to under half of that. And while I get that making thirteen episodes each named in the style of Tape 1 Side A and so on is all cute and quirky, it's just so drawn out. I couldn't count how many times I felt like punching the TV because Clay kept having conversations and asking people questions that would have all been solved if he just listened to the tapes. This made the show incredibly, incredibly tedious for me to watch

The TV show also includes all these extra plot lines (that no one asked for):

  • Hannah's parents are suing the school
  • Clay's mum is defending the school but feels bad about it and such drama
  • Everyone on the tapes has a vendetta against Clay
  • Clay is super rude to Hannah during crucial moments, why would they even add that into this?
  • Jessica doesn't remember what happened and can Hannah be trusted or no?!
  • Tyler is acting super weird and stuff what in the world is he collecting [spoiler] for?!
  • Clay is hallucinating all the time because suspense! Is anything real anymore?!
  • Clay wants revenge! and justice! and makes tape number 14 because he's so badass or whatever
  • Explicit suicide/rape/sex scenes because surely that's what this story needed
  • Let's end it in a couple of cliffhangers just to make sure we can milk more money from it!
All of the aforementioned things just add into the convoluted feel of the show. It's less Hannah's story and more the story of the consequences, which really, really takes it away from the original idea of a guy who has a crush on a girl hearing why she decided to kill herself and gaining closure through getting to know her better, even if it's too late for her. And in the book, the ending (which I obviously won't spoil) goes to show that Clay actually seems to grow from this experience in his own way. It was empowering. This was not.

Naturally, the explicit suicide and rape scenes are just the worst thing to happen to TV perhaps ever. I understand how they're shocking and make you feel strong emotions, but on the flip side of the coin it's what it says on the tin - making these very sensitive subjects entertainment. In the book, it was enough to say 'swallowed a bottle of pills' and 'he touched her', but the show just had to make these things into shocking scenes. And of course, they didn't let Hannah die but just swallowing some pills (that wouldn't be dramatic enough, would it?). Nah, it's way bloodier than that.

Tony is the hero this show doesn't deserve at all
If I had to name two good (or decent) things about this show, they would be Tony and Alex. Alex didn't come across as too likeable in the book but he's decent here, while Tony is the only pure thing in this show that just doesn't deserve him. Seriously, he was pretty much the only thing making it worth watching sometimes. He had a really nice personality and I would've liked this show so much more if Clay had just forgotten about Hannah and his stupid vendetta and dated this perfect creampuff instead. Seriously.

Obviously no one should think that Thirteen Reasons Why is a good idea or that Hannah Baker is a role model of any sort. Online discussion is largely focused on whether the show is portraying suicide and a suicide note as a good way to ultimately 'one-up' bullies or if the show makes suicide seem less final than it actually is. I won't go into more discussion one whether the show portrays these things in the wrong light, but maybe if you're less invested than I am in this mess, you would like to know. I'm just contrasting these two things and letting you make your own decisions based on that.

In short, I would not recommend the TV show. The book, yes, so long as you're not suicidal or anything, but definitely not the show. It's drawn out and annoying and most of the things that happen have nothing to do with what the book is about - why Hannah Baker killed herself.

Season two is coming whether anyone wants it or not. My best guess is that each episode will have Clay (under a lame super hero name like The Helmet Boy or something) attack each bully in turn with Tony as his sidekick. No but really, I don't know how one continues a story like this anymore, and I wish they didn't need to. But I suppose one always makes whatever makes money.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Bone Sparrow - Zana Fraillon

'I need these stories. Everyone else in here has memories to hold on to. Everyone else has things to think on to stop them getting squashed down to nothing. But I don't have memories of anywhere else, and all these days just squish into the same. I need their stories. I need them to make my memories.'


This was my first loan from the local library - after nearly a year and a half of living here, yes. And since the font is quite big and it has only 240 pages with many chapters, I read it in a couple of days. Mostly I read it in a nearby park when the weather was ridiculously warm and ice cream mandatory.

The Bone Sparrow is a book about ten-year old Rohingya boy Subhi, who was born in a refugee camp in Australia and has never known anything else. He's too old to be allowed to be a child (if he ever was young enough) but too young to accept the harsh reality of his surroundings. There's also Jimmie, who can't read the words her mum left behind, whose world has been off-balance since she died, who cannot see the point in anything anymore. One night, these two meet in a way that was much like The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. And they find that maybe they can make sense of the world together and bond over what they have in life.

The style is much like Room by Emma Donoghue in that Subhi's parts were quite childishly phrased, but I felt it fit the book, grounding you into always remembering how young he was and how the world around him didn't feel real yet. The chapter breaks are very often and Subhi and Jimmie alternate quickly and in an interesting pace. The first half of the book felt a bit slow, but the second half made up for it by being more emotional and heartfelt. All in all, it was a quick read and a pleasant little package. It was easy to like both Subhi and Jimmie, as well as the side characters. I don't feel like I hated anyone - except maybe the lack of humanity.

To the heavy stuff, then. It would be great if books like this weren't so important, so needed, so horribly real.

Naturally, the refugee camp is a horrible place. From food poisoning to hunger strikes, killings and violence, it's delicate but determined in the way it deals with the inhumane treatment of these people. Jimmie has a moment where she asks no one in particular how it can be illegal to want to live, and anyone reading this has to ask themselves the same question. It's surprisingly dark sometimes for the young people it was written for, but it didn't exactly step out of line. It was actually so horrible just because it's true.

This book is endorsed by Amnesty International, and there's even an information bit about them at the end. Sometimes it felt a bit too much like propaganda, but I understand what the author is saying about being inspired, if not even forced, to write this book because of the global refugee crisis, and more specifically, the 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis. The book states, in its afterword, that the Rohingya are 'some of the most persecuted people on earth'. What can you say to that, really? Can you claim that because the book wasn't a new instant classic to be read by generations, that it was not important? This is, indeed, a book that needed to be written, and because of that, it's awfully difficult to give it a rating as a 'work of art'. My four stars are for that aspect of the book, but I won't let anyone say that I don't think this is one of the more important books I'll read this year.

How did I end up reading two books on refugees in a row? I'll have to chill down with this stuff.

Anyway! For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 46: A book by a writer from Oceania! (I was pretty excited as I realised that I could fill this in, I had been wondering when I'd get around to reading a book from Down Under!)

Also, I went and watched the whole of Thirteen Reasons Why (I know, why do I bother?) so if you want to go and read my thoughts I thought I'd make a separate post again to compare the book vs. the tv show? I'll get to typing that in a bit, we'll see if it happens. I have a world full of complaints though.

(This post is starting to look like a wiki page with all these links, sorry about that!)

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Kissani Jugoslavia - Pajtim Statovci

'Kun koulussa puhuttiin islaminuskosta, diktatuureista tai vieraista kielistä, painoin pääni aina alas, sillä tunsin miten kaikki kääntyivät katsomaan minua. Ja kun he pyysivät minua puhumaan äidinkieltäni, jotkut heistä sanoivat ääneen, miten harmi on ettei sen osaamisesta ole mitään hyötyä täällä. Ja ollessani myöhässä kuulin usein, että sinunkin olisi jo korkea aika oppia, ettei tämä ole mikään kehitysmaa. On lottovoitto asua Suomessa ja käydä täällä koulua, muista se.'

'When in school we talked about islam, dictators or foreign languages, I always pressed my head down, because I felt how everyone turned to look at me. And when they asked me to speak my native language, some of them said out loud, what a shame it is that there's no use to knowing it here. And when I was late I often heard that it would be about time you learned too that this is no third world country. It's like winning a lottery to live in Finland and study here, remember that.' 


I got this book from my sister, who had somehow accumulated two copies of it. Kissani Jugoslavia ('My Cat Yugoslavia') is written by Pajtim Statovci, who left Kosovo in 1992, at two years old, and moved to Finland. So obviously writing a book as intricate as this, one that sharply contrasts the war-torn Yugoslavia and Finland, where we say it's like winning the lottery to be Finnish, is very commendable. The book also won the Helsingin Sanomat (the biggest newspaper in Finland) Literature Prize for a Best Debut in 2014. So naturally it's been one of those forever-tbr books of mine ever since.

The main character, Bekim, is studying at Helsinki University and had thought that for him it would be a way to be happy and make friends and find his place in the world. However, it's clear to him that amazing, life-changing opportunities don't come to people like him, people who are considered to be lesser than others and in the wrong place and the wrong colour. He faces racism to the point where he starts to shut himself from the world and prefers the company a king boa and a cat he meets in a gay club. Like the author, he too has left Kosovo at a young age.

There's also an intertwining story of his mother, Emine, decades prior, when she is a school girl who gives her name to a strange man who asks for it. He ends up searching the whole village for her, and they get married. I often preferred these parts of the book, for they 'made sense' and provided an interesting look into the life in Kosovo before the war and the destruction. Sometimes I'd have to google a fact even though I trusted the author immensely in talking about his own country. It all seemed very accurate and well-thought. Emine's story doesn't have a feminist awakening where she becomes the queen of her own existence, but she does have growth, and it was pleasant to follow even when the story itself was everything but pleasant.

While we say that you're so lucky to living in Finland, I know it's not easy, especially when your language and skin colour and name and customs are considered intimidating. Of course I loathe it and I hate to even admit it, but I suppose admittance is a way to fixing matters. I wish we could have this two-sided dialogue going on, so that we could meet each other as a people. I want my country to be a place where it's safe to come in a world where nothing seems too safe these days.

The following quote I picked because I've been low-key feeling it ever since the Brexit referendum. It's one of the most dangerous ways of thinking, 'it's not you but those other immigrants'. Of course, coming from Bekim, who left his war-ridden country not due to choice, it's different. It's also different because no matter what he does, he'll never be white enough or local enough. At least people like me can fake it 'til we make it, more or less. It still makes me sad.

'He kysyivät sitä minultakin. Milloin maahanmuuttajien laiskottelu loppuu, milloin loppuu sosiaalijärjestelmään kuseminen, milloin tuo vastenmielinen makoilu ja naisten härnääminen. 'Toki ymmärrän, etteivät kaikki ole samanlaisia, esimerkiksi sinä, sinä olet poikkeus ja tuollaisia me ottaisimme tonne varmasti lisääkin, mutta suurin osa.''

'They asked it from me as well. When are immigrants going to stop being lazy, when ends the pissing on the social security system, when that repulsive laying around and teasing of women. 'Of course I understand that not all are the same, you for an example, you are an exception and we'd surely take more like you here, but most of them.''

Anyway, I do have criticism too, one burning one that really hindered my enjoyment. Namely, Bekim's part was weird and I never really 'got it'. He had a cat and a snake and he was clearly conflicted and he didn't even like either of the animals but he liked them anyway, and the cat was so rude and still he needed it. He didn't have much growth during the story and if he did, then I didn't understand that either. I'm probably trying to understand too much something that isn't supposed to be understood, but I've never been too keen on overly poetic and 'weird' books.

Regardless, the writing was very beautiful and the skill was unquestionable. I've never really read about Finland from the refugee point of view even though I think about it a lot. I'll give this a 3.5 rounded up since I can't really give it a three. The author's second book, Tiranan sedan ('The Heart of Tirana') came out last year and I hear it's even better than this. I'll have to give it a go. The covers match so I need it on my shelf. 

Also, for the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 38: There is a wedding in the book! 

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Geisha of Gion - Mineko Iwasaki

'I entertained many important people that year. In April 1970 I was invited to an informal banquet for Prince Charles. The party took place at the Kitcho restaurant in Sagano, generally considered the best restaurant in Japan.'

The book cover has a photo of
Mineko at 23 years old.
Geisha of Gion (or Geisha, A Life, as the US version has it) is the autobiographical account of Mineko Iwasaki, the most famous geiko (only the geisha in Kyoto are called geiko) in Kyoto before her retirement at 29.

I think that for a book like this, it's very important that you know how it came to be. Mineko Iwasaki was one of the geisha Arthur Golden interviewed for his novel Memoirs of a Geisha (yes, that one turned into a movie, no, I'm not ashamed that I've seen it countless of times). She later sued him from breach of contract and defamation of character as she had wanted to remain anonymous and the acknowledgments specifically thanked her as a source. She went on to face death threats and wrote this book to tell the true story of her life. (She is quite identifiable in Memoirs of a Geisha, even though it's largely fiction.) It's a pity most people will probably never come across this one, since the movie is so popular.

Anyway, I picked up this book because I like Memoirs and felt almost obliged to have read the true account, lest I get too consumed by what may have been but wasn't. And I honestly wasn't expecting it to be much, because naturally the real thing just can't be as exciting and adventurous as a beautiful fairytale about the same subject. But this was, not necessarily exciting and adventurous, but beautiful and thoughtful.

The book starts from the beginning and continues until it reaches the end, as they say. It starts with young Masako (her born name) and her childhood with her family, which she states was the happiest time of her life. She joins the Iwasaki okiya when she's five years old, out of her own free will, and decides to become a geiko because she loves to dance. She works in her profession for 15 years, mostly seven days a week, even on days like New Year. She doesn't rest as much as any human being would because as the atotori, or heir, she feels obliged to work very hard. Eventually the restrictions of the profession catch up with her and she retires, feeling that she wants to do more.

What I really enjoyed about the book was how she explained the cultural aspects of being a geisha. She does it skilfully and tastefully, not expecting the reader to be a moron but realising the cultural difference. I learned a lot of things that Memoirs got wrong, but also others I hadn't known enough about to even think of. It does help that Mineko was the most successful geiko probably ever, so a story of her life is inherently more interesting that the account of anyone else's. She also tells it with a humble sense of gratitude; acknowledging was she is but not boasting about it. Additionally, she provides the kind of criticism to system one simply cannot offer without being fully involved in its workings.

'When I was in active service I commissioned a new kimono every week and would rarely wear any kimono more than four or five times. I have no idea how many kimono I actually owned during my career, but I imagine it was over three hundred. And each one, not including the enormously expensive robes I commissioned for special occasions, cost between $5,000 and £7,000.'

That's her, by the way.
She laments towards the end of the book that she believes that the geisha culture is dying, as the wealthy with the free time to spend time with the geisha are disappearing from Japan. This was another interesting piece of information to me, and I'll be sad with her if this does happen. The sort of culture she describes is so different from any I have ever known, I believe it's all of our loss if we lose these sorts of intricacies.

All in all (again here I'm supposed to lament how difficult it is to rate a memoir but give it value for its storytelling efforts regardless), I want to give this a 5/5. While it may not have been the perfect book, I applaud her for coming out with this story and specifically, her story. It's not like anyone else could have ever told this specific one otherwise. Bottom line: if you were to read only one book about geisha in your lifetime, it should definitely be this one.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 36: A biography or a memoir!

On the topic of Memoirs of a Geisha

Gosh, writing this is making me hate that thing. Not only does it attempt at having an American explain a world foreign to him and so very complex, it makes geisha seem like proper prostitutes. I'm sure some of them do that, but it's a very stigmatising and hurtful thing to assume about a group of artists from a different ethnic background you know nothing about. Rightfully so, in Geisha of Gion Mineko takes every opportunity to assure the reader that geisha don't sleep with people for money, to the point where it seems a little desperate. But what else is the for her to do, really?

Memoirs also goes on to claim things like 'a geisha can only be half a wife' and 'it is not for geisha to want. It is not for a geisha to feel.' which are generalising weird presumptions that, according to Mineko, are not even truthful. How is that okay, even in the name of artistic license and all that?

As if that wasn't enough, there's the whole mizuage thing. This is a coming of age ceremony for a maiko where the topknot of her hair is cut in a symbolic manner, but Golden turns this into a virginity sold to the highest bidder. Again, this was probably a thing in some places, but to normalise that for everyone, especially when you're basing your story on the life of somebody who has actually existed? Yikes.

Also, Golden's novel is heavily laden with this "west explains east" thing, where a whole culture is reduced into bite-sized tidbits and erotic, mysterious storytelling, written by someone who's not knowledgeable enough to understand what they're actually talking about. Additionally I think with a title like Memoirs of a Geisha, even if the book says it's all fictional, it's bound to make some people think otherwise. Again, if you read one book about geisha, please have it be Geisha of Gion instead.