#6degrees April: From Memoirs of a Geisha to…

Only just got back from holiday, but I really want to participate in one of my favourite monthly memes: the Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate in Kew

This month’s starting point is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, which I read while I was studying Japanese at university, so I was really snobbish and dismissive about it at the time. There is an element of exotification the Oriental Other and a strain of soap opera about it which still doesn’t sit well with me, but it’s been a gateway to Japanese culture and literature for many, many people. Incidentally, if you are looking for a more honest account of life as a geisha in post-war Japan, Iwasaki Mineko (the geisha whom the author based the book on) wrote her side of the story in her autobiography Geisha of Gion.







Another book that casts a non-judgemental look upon what some call the ‘oldest profession in the world’, but without the glamour and rigid rules that have been associated with it in Japan, is G. B. Shaw’s play Mrs. Warren’s ProfessionHow do you come to terms with your mother being a former prostitute and now a brothel madam, when her money offered you a comfortable lifestyle and supported you through your studies? Well, although I am not a fan of prostitution, I certainly don’t blame women for it, so I think both Shaw and I disapprove of the self-righteous daughter’s shock and rejection of her mother’s way of life.

The mother-daughter relationship is such a rich source of fiction and memoir, so it was quite hard to make a choice for my next link, but Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain is a brilliant story about an ungrateful daughter whose mother has made far too many sacrifices for her. The film version is (dare I say it?) far better though (and I don’t often say that), with Joan Crawford being absolutely devastating in it.


One of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject of divorce and how to survive a cheating spouse is a volume of poetry. Sharon Old’s Stag’s Leap is ferociously honest, at once heartwarming and heartbreaking, chronicling the end of a marriage from anger, disbelief, grief to final acceptance and moving on.

…and I saw, again, how blessed my life has been,

first, to have been able to love,

then, to have the parting now behind me,,

and not have lost him when the kids were young,

and the kids now not at all to have lost him,

and not to have lost him when he loved me, and not to have

lost someone who could have loved me for life.

From a leap to a jump, Austin Ratner’s The Jump Artist is a novel/biography of the photographer Philippe Halsman, born in a Latvian Jewish family, accused of murdering his father in 1928 and freed after numerous appeals by friends such as Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann and others. He lived and worked in Paris until France was invaded by the Germans, then moved to the States. He became famous as a portrait photographer who asked many of his subjects to jump, because ‘when you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.’

One of the people Halsman photographed jumping is Stanley Hyman, Shirley Jackson’s husband. In the thoughtful biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, we read that in the first take Hyman jumped so high that the frame only captured his feet. Halsman did not expect a sedentary scholar to be so competitive – and the image he did finally capture shows a person so self-absorbed and demanding (of himself and others), that it does indeed give us an insight into the tough-emotionally-yet-satisfying-intellectually marriage Shirley Jackson must have had with him.

For once, I have stayed largely within the English-speaking realm this month, and on the verge of biographies/real life stories. Where do your Six Degrees take you?






21 thoughts on “#6degrees April: From Memoirs of a Geisha to…”

  1. My Six Degrees took me to different countries but only one was translated to English. I liked the biographical slant of your chain. And some new books for me to look into, although I have no room in my house for more books. I liked both the book and the movie versions of Mildred Pierce.

  2. Such great choices, Marina Sofia! I wouldn’t have thought of a book of poetry as being helpful in surviving something wrenching like a divorce. But there you are: poetry has power.

    1. I’ve read it over and over again – it is specific yet universal and timeless. Poetry has a way of filling in the gaps – or allowing you to fill in the gaps.

    1. I’m a bit too critical of Memoirs of a Geisha – but it did raise the profile of this aspect of Japanese society. I remember my parents’ generation being equally taken by Shogun.

  3. I’m so glad to hear that Geisha of Gion exists, as I had been wondering how authentically Arthur Goldman could portray the life of a geisha. I love the idea of The Jump Artist, too, and am particularly fascinated by his life in France during the war, and how he came to leave.

    1. This book does look in particular at Halsman’s early life and how he was convicted of murder mainly for anti-semitic reasons, so less about how he escaped to Marseille and then the US.

  4. Very nice. Some books I hadn’t heard of and some that I had already put on my list. I really want to read the book about Shirley Jackson.

    1. It’s an excellent biography – if you are a Shirley Jackson fan, I really recommend it. It has made me go out and buy all of the remaining Jackson books which I hadn’t read.

  5. A fascinating chain – particularly the last three books, that I haven’t come across before. The last two in particular sound amazing – oh for more time to read …

    1. I go through periods when I enjoy biographies, but not very frequently, so I was somewhat surprised by the route these links took me this month!

  6. I’m late in getting my own chain together, but the books are chosen now so I can enjoy the chains of others without feeling influenced. And yours is a cracker, Marina! I loved Memoirs of a Geisha, but now the Geisha of Gion is a must read. I hadn’t heard of that one so thank you! Mildred Pierce had fallen off my radar so again, thanks for the nudge. I haven’t seen the film but I did enjoy the Kate Winslet mini series. I could happily add your entire chain to my tbr….

    1. Thank you, that is a great compliment. Yes, Mildred Pierce is worth a read and certainly the Joan Crawford film is worth seeing (but then I think pretty much any film she is in is worth seeing!)

  7. Your point about Geisha being a gateway to Japanese figure was exactly my experience…..This month’s chain was a really hard one for me. Only just managed to get something posted

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