Mark Luce

Arthur Golden is an American. He is a man. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. 

Sayuri is Japanese. She is a woman. She lives in the Gion district of Kyoto, Japan. Magically, though, in Golden's first novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, he actually becomes the first-person voice of Sayuri, and in the process manages to strip away Western myths about geisha to fashion a tale as compellng as it is convincing. 

The fictional Sayuri, based on Golden's voluminous researc, presents an illuminating portrait of a culture too often mistakenly considered synonymous with prostitution by outsiders. While certainly fiscal transaction and sex do occur in this context, primarily the geisha is an entertainer, one who sings, dances, converses and acommpanies. In short, a type of professional companion. It is a tricky and often unfullfilling occupation, as Sayuri tells us, requiring tact, quick wit and at times unbearable situations.

Sayuri glides readers through the arduous training and ceremony of geisha apprenticeship and the rigidly controlled structure of households and relations. This world of slivers of exposed skin, demure glances, secret passions, appearance and reputation nevertheless resonates with the hushed sound of financial machinations. A geisha needs a rich danna, or benefactor, but often, the danna isn't necessarily who the geisha desires most.

Sayuri has no say when, at only 9, she is taken to the okiya from a small fishing village. She has no say as she is abused and bad-mouthed by the drunken Hatsumomo, her rival in the household. She has no say when Dr. Crab outbids the Baron for her mizuage, or virginity. And she has no say in her danna, even tough she hopes secretly, for years, that it will one day be the businessman known as the Chairman.

In many ways, Memoirs of a Geisha functions as a typical romance—poor girl climbs the social ladder—but Golden's exquisite execution never fails. The implicit risk of writing in a foreign voice never becomes and issue; indeed, it is forgotten as Sayuri's charm enraptures from the novel's first line. 

Near the beginning of the book, Sayuri says she used to joke that someone had poked a hole in her eyes and all the ink had drained out. While her translucent gray eyes do guide the reader through nearly 40 years, that spilled ink gracefully rolls onto Golden's pages, forming the alluring curves and supple lines of this elegant debut.

 

Sayuri is Japanese. She is a woman. She lives in the Gion district of Kyoto, Japan. Magically, though, in American writer Arthur Golden's first novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, he actually becomes the first-person voice of Sayuri, and in the process manages to strip away Western myths about geisha to fashion a tale as compellng as it is convincing. 

Philip Shumway is only 13 years old when his older brother disappears. Stepping out to explore Baker's Bottoms Pond near his rural Massachusetts home, the child prodigy vanishes without a trace. Frederick Reiken's The Odd Sea chronicles the decade following the disappearance, examining how the event affects an already dysfunctional family. The heroic father throws himself into the chisels of timber framing. The angry mother loses herself for months in a psychiatric hospital and Victorian novels. Amy, the oldest sister, screams at the family to move on and steals Ethan's diary to keep them from trying to hang on to what doesn't exist. All the while, Philip, the narrator of this touching story, wanders the woods "not-finding" Ethan.

Reiken remarkably captures the unresolved nature of a disappearance, the world of questions, false leads, and dashed hopes. At times various family members convince themselves that Ethan has been brutally murdered or has run away to Arles, France, to follow in the footsteps of Van Gogh. While everyone crafts their own personal grief crutches, it is Philip who creatively employs his desire to remember his brother with his own budding artistry. Philip walks the woods and backroads scribbling vignettes in bulging notebooks, attempting to "remember everything" about Ethan. He grows to realize these stories won't bring his brother back, but they will bring him out of the nothingness he is so rightly afraid of.

In the hands of a lesser novelist, the story could easily dissolve into emotional schlock, but Reiken's voice is pitch-perfect fragile, yet resolute, sad, but celebratory. He renders the family's torment in all its contradictory complexity, depicting grieving not as a linear process that can be broken into 12 simple steps, but rather disparate mixture of melancholy, sureness, and confusion that defies timelines and the cliched words of experts. Much like Ordinary People, The Odd Sea strikes with its understated lyricism, surprises with its maturity and awes with its complexity. Reiken is only in his twenties, but writes with the confidence of an author three times his age; someone this young isn't supposed to write something this good.

 

 

Philip Shumway is only 13 years old when his older brother disappears. Stepping out to explore Baker's Bottoms Pond near his rural Massachusetts home, the child prodigy vanishes without a trace. Frederick Reiken's The Odd Sea chronicles the decade following the disappearance, examining how the event affects an already dysfunctional family. The heroic father throws […]

1 loaf of wry 2 cups of longing 3 cups of detailed observation 2 flank steaks of conviction Dash of critique of carnivorous colonialism Stir the wry, longing, and observation in a large mixing bowl. Pour atop flanks and cook for 364 pages. Garnish with critique. Beautifully serves one. Such a literary recipe takes the utmost care, patience, and preparation. Many first-time novel chefs manage to overcook, but Cynthia Ozeki is the rare cook she creates a sumptuous 12-chapter meal in her debut My Year of Meats.

Jane Little-Takagi reluctantly takes a job with My American Wife!, a TV show that brings the values and meats of the American heartland into the homes of Japanese wives. Jane considers herself a “cultural pimp” for hawking beef for a national lobby association, but as a sometimes brash, sometimes tender fledgling documentarian, she wants the experience and she needs the money. Across the Pacific Akiko Ueno watches My American Wife! and dutifully makes the dishes for her husband John, one of the producers of the show. But Akiko's inability to conceive causes John shame, which he takes out by beating his quiet wife. However, the strength of Jane's programs, which invariably veer from what the producers are looking for (one of her shows features vegetarian lesbians), gives Akiko hope to remove herself from an increasingly hellish existence. From the Wal-Martification of America to the hormone-fueled production of meats, Ozeki balances humor with horror, sardonic cultural comment with passionate evocations of the political, personal, and chemical politics of childbearing.

Conceptually the novel falters a bit in the last few chapters, but not enough to derail the surprisingly funny and surprisingly disturbing picture of cross-cultural clashes and the high stakes of meat production in the United States. Ozeki masterfully brings her skills as an accomplished documentarian, which provides unbelievable details, especially to the American sections of the book. She nails regional quirks in behavior and speech from the delta soul of Mississippi to the funkified East Village. Smart, sensitive, slick, and sizzling, My Year of Meats (Viking, $23.95. 0670879045), possesses an edgy hipness informed by maturing convictions, and Ozeki's recipe simmers equal parts attitude and talent. As they say down South, “Them's good eats.” Reviewed by Mark Luce.

1 loaf of wry 2 cups of longing 3 cups of detailed observation 2 flank steaks of conviction Dash of critique of carnivorous colonialism Stir the wry, longing, and observation in a large mixing bowl. Pour atop flanks and cook for 364 pages. Garnish with critique. Beautifully serves one. Such a literary recipe takes the […]

The lyrical power of Delia Facloner's The Service of Clouds can only be described as stunningly poetic. Her story rains passion, landscape, love and loss on readers, and Falconer writes with a grace not normally associated with first novels. Sensuous metaphors, historical complexity and swirling spirituality form the airy clouds of this absolutely gorgeous novel. Reviewed by Mark Luce.

The lyrical power of Delia Facloner's The Service of Clouds can only be described as stunningly poetic. Her story rains passion, landscape, love and loss on readers, and Falconer writes with a grace not normally associated with first novels. Sensuous metaphors, historical complexity and swirling spirituality form the airy clouds of this absolutely gorgeous novel. […]

Mo Lehrnman is a prototypical rock climber: fearless, wildly spontaneous, and filled with marvelous stories of triumph and near misses. His best friend, Ray Connelly, is everything Mo's not. But when Ray “borrows” Mo's tales for a book, the pair take their struggle to the beauty of Yosemite's El Capitan, the crown jewel of rock climbing. An amusing look at the high-altitude world of twentysomething climbers, Daniel Duane's Looking for Mo delights readers with its majestic description of Yosemite and a friendship saved by carabiners and ropes. Reviewed by Mark Luce.

Mo Lehrnman is a prototypical rock climber: fearless, wildly spontaneous, and filled with marvelous stories of triumph and near misses. His best friend, Ray Connelly, is everything Mo's not. But when Ray “borrows” Mo's tales for a book, the pair take their struggle to the beauty of Yosemite's El Capitan, the crown jewel of rock […]

If Salman Rushdie praises your work as lush and the New Yorker publishes one of your stories before you are old enough to rent a car, chances are that you are talented. Kiran Desai has talent in spades, an her debut Hullaballo in the Guava Orchard leaves readers wishing the novel had just kept going. Desai writes unerringly about the triumph of failure, the circularity of life, and endears herself with a particular examination of Indian culture that resonates with universal themes. Reviewed by Mark Luce.

If Salman Rushdie praises your work as lush and the New Yorker publishes one of your stories before you are old enough to rent a car, chances are that you are talented. Kiran Desai has talent in spades, an her debut Hullaballo in the Guava Orchard leaves readers wishing the novel had just kept going. […]

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!