Historic fiction has come to be one of my most loved genres and I couldn’t help but fall in love with this book. This tale has everything that a great story has – battles, victories, romance, politics, greed, lust and more. Hailing from India and never having visited Agra or seen the Taj Mahal this book has made my urge to visit Agra more fierce.
As a chapter in history we have read about Shah Jahan building this architectural marvel of a mausoleum in loving memory of his wife and also about the wrath of Aurangzeb and his succession to the throne. But never have given such a first-person (though fictional) thought to the process.
The story is narrated by Princess Jahanara who is the daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. She is intelligent, witty, a hopeless romantic, brave and knows the rules of politics and power. As a child she learned a lot from her mother Mumtaz who herself was a kind and intelligent women. Other important characters are Jahanara’s two brothers – Prince Dara & Prince Aurangzeb. Dara was to be king in succession is portrayed to be kind and open to all religions while Prince Aurangzeb is someone whose greed for the Peacock Throne and conservative interpretations of the Koran portray him as insensitive and brutal.
Meanwhile, Jahanara is married off for political reasons and loathes her husband. He is everything she despises – insensitive, does not respect women, illiterate and crass. During a childbirth Mumtaz passes away. After her demise, Shah Jahan becomes inconsolable and lost in grief. He decides to build a mausoleum for Mumtaz and asks Jahanara to head the project. This is where she met her Isa, her lover.
Jahanara suspects Aurangzeb’s intentions to succeed to the throne and overthrow his father and does her best to warn and prepare Dara but unfortunately that doesn’t have quite the ideal outcome. Aurangzeb kills Dara and imprisons Shah Jahan and succeeds to the throne. Jahanara manages to escape and leads one of those ‘happily ever after’ fairy tale endings.
My favourite character of the book is Ladli – who is Jahanara’s gorgeous, witty and loyal Hindu friend. She comes to Jahanara’s aide when the Peacock Throne needs her. Her language and use of expletives just cracked me up. She adds some more colour to the already wonderful tale. This book is a must read! Entertaining and gripping all at the same time.
Overall verdict: 5/5
One of the best books I have ever read! It has been everything that you need a book to be – entertaining, enthralling, mesmerising and more! This an amazing tale of the coming of age of a little girl, geisha rivalries inside the okiya, her struggle for freedom and her search for her prince charming. As for me, I knew nothing about Geisha’s and their quaint little world or even how you say the word ‘Geisha’ (gay-sha) – so it would be fair to say reading this book was quite educational for me.
This story is about a pretty little girl – Chiyo who comes from an impoverished family. Her family comprises of her father who is a fisherman and barely manages to make ends meet; her mother a very beautiful woman whom Chiyo has inherited her lovely looks and grey eyes from and suffers from a terminal illness; her elder sister Satsu who has inherited more ordinary looks from her father.
During the Great Depression in Japan, Chiyo’s father is forced to sell both his daughters into slavery. Owing to her unusual and charming looks, Chiyo is sold into an okiya which is a Geisha house while Satsu is sold into prostitution.
Coming from an extremely humble background little Chiyo is amazed by the glitz and glamour of the Gion. The first part of the book is the transformation of a simple girl into a sophisticated and superstitious Geisha. It also gives us an idea about her Geisha studies – singing, dancing, tea ceremonies, along with the hardships and rivalries at the okiya with the okiya’s top girl – Hatsumomo.
Soon as an apprentice geisha Chiyo follows her ‘older sister’ Mameha – a successful geisha around the gion and meets potential patrons. During her coming of age, there is a bidding for her Mizuage after which she no longer needs to be accompanied by her older sister. She takes charge of her life and tries to free herself of the debts owed to the okiya.
The two key characters are Nobu and Chairman both of whom are partners in an electrical company. Nobu is an ugly yet kind hearted sumo wrestler while the Chairman is a refined, classy man whose words gave Sayuri (Chiyo’s geisha name) the strength during testing times. Sayuri had grown to be obsessed by him and his thoughts. Sayuri has come to find a friend in Nobu. Nobu who wishes to be her ‘danna’. Danna is someone who takes a geisha as his mistress. It is interesting how until the end, it is undecided who Sayuri’s fate holds for her – Nobu or the chairman.
It is very rare that you come across a tale so complete and entertaining! Though the downside is that some elements to it are too extreme or fairytale-ish. For instance the character of the chairman comes across as one which perfect and this worries me as it is too ideal and far from being realistic. Having said that, I wish there were other books by Arthur Golden because am sure I would be waiting to read it. A (almost) perfect tale – it has all the elements a new world, the victories and struggles of a little girl, her romance, her education.
Mr.Golden – Please write another book! I would love to go on another exotic and entertaining journey via your book.
Overall verdict : 5/5
This was my first ever Haruki Murakami read and I must say it messes with your head! You read things that make you question reality. Despite the book describing a lot of fantasy/super-realism it seems weirdly familiar which is what messes with your perception of reality and makes the book extremely gripping.
In this book the protagonist Toru Okada is an otherwise ordinary man with a rather ordinary life. He works at a law firm. First he quits his job then goes to lose his cat and then he even loses his wife- Kumiko. That point on nothing about his life continues to be ordinary. There is a big void in his life – during this time he meets psychic sisters named Malta Kano and Creta Kano who initially help him find his cat. He also receives some mysterious phone calls from women who claim to know him.
Other than Toru Okada there is another important man in this plot -Noburu Wataya, Kumiko’s brother. Toru and Noburu have a mutual relationship has been that of extreme hatred. Toru has always liked to keep a distance from Noburu but the course Toru’s life takes makes him come face to face with the existence of his brother-in-law. Noburu is a politician and has anything but an ordinary childhood. It has involved the loss of his sister, this man is loved by the public and has very strong influence owing to his political position. Yet this very same man has defiled a number of women including Creta Kano and his own dead sister.
When Toru went out looking for their lost cat he met a teenage girl called May Kahasara. She is far from an average teenager – she is obsessed with death, doesn’t go to school and has been a part of a motorcycle accident in which her boyfriend died. She indulges in a lot of profound thoughts about life and death and how the presence of death alters the meaning of life. This school of thinking made me take a break from reading and I took the liberty to go ahead and think of what the life and thoughts of a teenager whose life doesnt involve carrying out a lot of mundane tasks would be like especially when their thoughts are so different, strong and special. I would love to know someone like this. I think May was my favourite character in the book. She makes the book even more intriguing. Her job at the wig factory, the duck people and everything make May quite interesting.
After May, the mother son duo of Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akaskara come into Toru’s life. Nutmeg was a top class fashion designer and suddenly lost her interest in designing and started a new career of ‘fitting’ people. She is described to have a good taste in clothes and presents herself with great class. When she sees Toru she realizes that he can help her with ‘fitting’ people. Her son Cinnamon is my second favourite character. He is someone who has truly impressed me – being punctual to the dot, being prim and proper, conveying everything without words, the smart, organized young man who willingly took on the responsibility of the household when his grandmother passed away. Intelligent, punctual, well-dressed, emotional, a great listener – sounds like every girl’s dream to me! He adds a new dimension to the Wind-up Bird chronicle also because he is the one who saves Toru Okada’s life. His actions seem to convey how much he cares for the man.
Other significant characters/things that make this story intriguing are – a dry well, Lieutenant Mamiya, a psychic Mr. Honda, Toru’s mark on the face and how the historic events of Japan’s war relate to Okada’s life in a very convoluted way. The description of the war events like skinning a man or the killing of the animals to name a few is very realistic. The intricate details make the event spring to life. What still amazes me is how these historic war events juxtapose with Toru’s mundane life.
Overall a errm weirdly gripping read – fantasy described in the most familiar or known way possible. I am not sure I can quite describe what it is like to read this book – I would recommend you read it to go through those roller coaster of emotions yourself.
Overall rating: 4/5