Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale [Eng - Trans]

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Iyolin
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Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale [Eng - Trans]

Post by Iyolin » Sat Jun 25, 2016 9:11 am

Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale
by Nagai Kafu, and translated by Stephen Snyder

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# ISBN-10: 0231141181
# ISBN-13: 978-0231141185

Amazon.com
*The review by Zack Davisson for this book is very good and quite what I'd like to say. I recommend reading his review in addition to this.

If you can, buy it on sale. It's so short, I just don't think it's worth $20.

Note: This version is most likely different (in minor respects) from Geisha In Rivalry (which is the "same" book; both are translations of "Udekurabe"), as they were translated by different people, and supposedly this version contains a bit more information, as is explained in the foreword by the translator.

Thoughts:
I signed this book out of the library. It's a very quick read at less than 200 pages, and doesn't use complex English vocabulary, but will refer to things about the geisha culture (and sometimes the words) about which some might be confused if they didn't know anything at all about geisha, though they should still be able to follow the story. The translator decides to explain the pieces of an outfit (such as using "the cord worn over the obi" instead of obijime) so that more readers would understand, especially if they don't know the parts to a kimono ensemble.

The theme is universal - love and rivalry in love. The people in this are not perfect, and we get descriptions of the 'players' involved, which the characters are not privy to. Sometimes, the people we follow in the story aren't the main focus, but adds to the overall feel of the events and how they are tied together.

There's not much action - it's pretty much all drama. While sex is not explicitly discussed, it does happen, and it's fairly obvious when a sexual encounter has taken place. The lifestyle is not glamorized, and reading it feels very realistic. We get a sense that for these geisha, their life is work, and they're always planning and trying to figure out their futures, and how long they'd have to keep at their profession.

There's a variety of characters, including the geisha, the owners of a geisha house, a kabuki actor, a rascally writer, the son of the owners of the geisha house, and more, which make it interesting. I found myself learning more about the types of people who are involved in the flower and willow world, and not the geisha themselves, which I appreciated.  I also found the rivalry to not be just between the geisha, but among the patrons and other characters as well. Motivations don't run very deep; we're not privy to their innermost thoughts and complex thought processes; in that way, it's basic, pure and needs-driven.

Personally, I felt the ending to be a bit anti-climactic, but still overall enjoyable and an ending that works out for those involved.

One of my favorite things about the book was Nagai's descriptions; I could just picture the outfits as he talked about them, and that was great. For example:

"Her hair was done in a low shimada style with an openwork, silver-covered comb and a jade hairpin. She had changed into a kimono of light crepe with a fine stripe. The effect was quite refined, but perhaps fearing it would be too old for her, she had added a half-collar with elaborate embroidery. Her obi was made of crepe in the old-fashioned Kaga style, lined with black satin, and it was held together with a sash of light blue crepe dyed in a bold pattern. The cord worn over the obi was a deep celadon green decorated in front with a large pearl."

Bear in mind while reading that Nagai Kafu published the story around 1918, and that he was quite involved in the world (he was married to a geisha, and visited many establishments). His involvement is explained in the foreword, which was also well written and informative. Although this book is fiction, based on his involvement and intimacy with the flower and willow world, I'm inclined to believe this comments and descriptions more than those of Golden from Memoirs.

Recommended:
- For those interested in a slightly different look at the flower and willow world.
- For those who enjoy descriptions of wafuku.
- For those looking for a quick read about the flower and willow world.
- For those wanting a look at how their life was around 1920.

Not Recommended:
- For those looking for a detailed description of a geisha's life.
- For those wanting a complex, deeply involving read.
- For those that think geisha never had (obligatory) sex.
- For those wanting a modern book.

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Re: Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale [Eng - Trans]

Post by shira » Sat Jun 25, 2016 9:12 am

NAME: orastella


What time period is the story set in? Edo Meiji or Taisho?

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Re: Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale [Eng - Trans]

Post by shira » Sat Jun 25, 2016 9:12 am

NAME: Iyolin


I'm guessing present day for the time of writing, which was around 1918, and therefore Taisho. Women were just starting to act in plays, the Ginza was trendy, there were streetcars.

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Re: Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale [Eng - Trans]

Post by shira » Sat Jun 25, 2016 9:12 am

NAME: sakuramochi


I'm in the middle of this book at the moment after finding it cheap on Amazon. I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far so will write more once I've finished it.

I'd agree with Iyolin's comments, it's a great alternative to 'Memoirs' as it was written nearly 100 years ago. I think he wrote it as a newspaper serial in 1916 before it was published as a book, but the more explicit parts were only printed/translated recently.

I would agree that it seems more authentic than 'Memoirs' as the author was married to an ex-geisha and he spent much of his life around them. Considering some of his friends/geisha would be likely to read the book (he printed the complete version privately for family and friends as it would not have passed the censors), it is presumably quite an accurate reflection of geisha life at that time. He wouldn't 'Hollywoodise' stuff like Arthur Golden, as that would annoy his geisha friends if not his wife, don't you think?

Personally I think some of the passages about sex are quite explicit...maybe I have a vivid imagination!

I'm finding it really interesting to see the life in the Tokyo geisha districts, and to compare geisha then with geisha today, for example how Kikuchiyo became a geisha before she had even studied music or dance, she more or less gets away with being a prostitute and everyone loves her for it but she is classed as a geisha as she lives in an okiya.

Anyway, I hope I get a chance to read the rest of the book soon and add some more comments. So far...I'd recommend it, but as Iyolin said, try and get it cheap as it's quite short and you'll probably have it read in one sitting!

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Re: Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale [Eng - Trans]

Post by shira » Sat Jun 25, 2016 9:12 am

NAME: Okoi_fish


Well finding any books by kafu nagai is hard but I have one of his short stories called peony gardens has anyone ever heard about it?
He lived his for the demi-donde world and wrote coutless stories about them. Heck even his life was interesting but yes thanks for the review this is defintely one of the books I will read this year. ^_^

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Re: Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale [Eng - Trans]

Post by shira » Sat Jun 25, 2016 9:13 am

NAME: wex geisha


It looks like it would be a good book. The only book Ive read was "Memoirs." I kind of want to read more about Geishas.

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