Geisha by Lesley Downer

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The Independent Culture

With Geishas on the brink of extinction, it is ironic that they have inspired two bestsellers. The accretion of detail in Downer's history gives it the edge on Arthur Golden's imaginative Memoirs of a Geisha. We learn about the fashion for blackened teeth, male geishas, the titillating effect of the unpainted nape of the geisha's neck and the chilling role of the professional deflowerer. "It looks pretty outside," says one of the geishas. "But inside it's harsh. I want to be an English teacher."