There is a bit of the cultural expansiveness of Dickens or Zola here, and if Komayo’s dilemma feels a bit light to a modern...

RIVALRY

A GEISHA’S TALE

The first complete English translation of Kafu’s 1918 portrait of geisha life is historically gripping, if not quite dramatically so.

Recently widowed Komayo has returned to Tokyo to take up the only livelihood she knows, the profession of geisha. Lovely, in her mid-20s, she hits on a bit of luck when she runs into Yoshioka at the theater. He’s now a successful businessman. Komayo was Yoshioka’s first encounter with a geisha back in his student days. Still enchanted with her, he wants to reestablish their connection. It is not long before Yoshioka becomes her patron, a euphemism tangled in the complex economic and social structure of geisha life. Though ostensibly hostesses, geisha are financially indebted to the house that represents them (for their costly wardrobes and board), and the only feasible way to be released from contract is to acquire a patron who will hopefully buy it. Sexual favors are traded for patronage, and the geisha will hedge her bets by having a number of patrons, hoping one will repay the debt, in effect creating a life of limited, genteel prostitution. Away on holiday Komayo meets Segawa, a rising star on the stage, and the two begin a love affair. She tries to keep Segawa a secret, but soon Yoshioka finds out and begins to plot her humiliation. Meanwhile, Komayo becomes involved with a grotesque antiques dealer, whose patronage helps pay for the increasing expenses Komayo incurs in gifts for Segawa. Into these complications come the rivals of the novel’s title—other geishas who steal the attention of Yoshioka and Segawa. Originally serialized, the novel detours into the lives of those in the Shimbashi geisha district of 1912, offering for view the hangers-on, hack writers, men of power and the waitresses and attendants who serve the geisha, in effect shaping a beautifully realized portrait of this significant Japanese subculture.

There is a bit of the cultural expansiveness of Dickens or Zola here, and if Komayo’s dilemma feels a bit light to a modern sensibility, Kafu creates a world around her that is fascinating to behold.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-231-14118-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2007

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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