Geisha (2000): Lesley Downer


The secret history of a vanishing world

In the West we’ve developed a romanticised view of the geisha, largely thanks to Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha and the related film. The geisha have become one of the defining images of old Japan for many of us, like samurai or cherry blossom, but Downer takes us beyond the picture-perfect gloss into the complex histories and modern incarnations of this fascinating profession.

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The Last Concubine (2008): Lesley Downer


Ever since I went to Japan, I’ve been curious to learn more about its ancient feudal culture. While this may not be the kind of serious historical introduction that I should be reading, it does help to give a certain flavor of the atmosphere and, besides, Lesley Downer is a reliable guide. I read her history book Geisha about six months ago and was impressed then by the engaging way she wrote about these mysterious, endlessly fascinating creatures. As one who has studied and lived in Japan, she’s managed to get a feel for the complexities of the country’s social history, and her knowledge of its customs and traditions pervades every corner of this novel.

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