Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Reading List 2010

Hello again.

As vaguely promised before, I'm trying to get myself into the writing mood by sharing some thoughts on the books I'm reading this year. I've been plugging away at Defence of the Realm, a twenty tonne diplodocus of a book that is hard to hold upright, yet alone wave around on the upper deck of a crowded bus, so I'm saving that for home reading and have embarked on some other, more flexible, titles.

At the end of last week I finished Geisha of Gion. This is Mineko Iwasaki's riposte to Memoirs of a Geisha. Iwasaki was formerly one of Japan's most successful 20th century geishas, or geiko, in the 60s and 70s and anonymous interviews with her formed much of the basis of Arthur Golden's Memoirs. Unfortunately Golden is apparently a bit of an arse, and subsequently made it clear that Iwasaki had broken the unofficial geisha code of silence, as well as substantially re-writing her experiences to imply that geishas are nothing more than prostitutes and that Iwasaki had herself been forcibly deflowered at a coming of age ceremony - something that simply does not happen in modern-day Japan.

Having not read Memoirs I'm barely qualified to critique it in any way, but the response paints a far more intriguing, almost feminist, picture of a secretive - and threatened - ritualised lifestyle that blows apart notions of prostitution and shows geisha as empowered, intelligent and successful businesswomen. If you read Memoirs, this should be picked up for an alternative viewpoint.

Yesterday I started The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, which I picked up on a 3 for 2 in Waterstones some months ago and never got around to reading. This is Booker nominated and so far it's very good, pitched as a conversation between a bearded Muslim and an unnamed American in a Lahore cafe, the story is told entirely as a monologue from the Pakistani. In the opening pages of the book, he takes his guest through his experiences as a Princeton scholar and his time as a graduate trainee at a New York finance company up to 9/11.

Hamid has crafted a very well-rounded, sympathetic central character whose speech you can almost hear in your head, which as a reader, is keeping me turning the pages - your experience may vary. As to the identity of his American friend, we are left guessing, but the early implication is that he is an off-duty army officer or intelligence operative. I'm hoping the second half of the book is going to develop in an interesting direction.

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