Book Review of Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden

I have long been fascinated by traditional Japanese culture and particularly the hidden world of the geisha so I was delighted to find this book in Fopp for the bargain price of £2. It is written as if it is an autobiography though this is an affectation as the author is an American male. It tells the story of a young Japanese girl in the 1930s sold as a child to a geisha house. She works first as a maid and then as an apprentice geisha. Her career progress is foiled by a jealous older geisha who treats her cruelly but she later resumes her career and becomes moderately successful. She falls secretly in love with a businessman, The Chairman, who knows nothing of her love. In fact she rarely sees him. Her virginity is taken at the tender age of fourteen. Interestingly, she is portrayed as knowing virtually nothing of sex. The War comes and disrupts the life of the geisha house….

This is beautifully written and it is an interesting story of a fading way of life, poignant and moving. Though Golden is a good writer I couldn’t help thinking in the hands of a great master this tale could have been a true classic. It is really a traditional romance about enduring love and yes, spoiler alert, there is a fairy tale happy ending.

I am no expert in Japanese culture but the book is definitely written with an American audience in mind. At times the protagonist reacts like a Mid-Western farm girl rather than a Japanese geisha. The description of Americans as universally kind and the depiction of New York as a fairy tale world at the end is jarring to a European eye. Would you really think so highly of a country that had bombed your homeland flat? At times the pace is slow and I did put it down several times. I would have liked more depth in the characters.

Overall, I enjoyed it and I did feel transported to another time and place and lost myself there for a while.

Book Review I Am Pilgrim Terry Hayes

This book follows a pretty standard thriller format. Secret agent Pilgrim is on a mission to save the US from infection with the smallpox virus hidden inside flu vaccine by a Saudi born Muslim jihadi. It is an easy read with lots of action. I would have liked more depth. It is written very much like a Hollywood film. There were moments when it did strive to be something more. I liked the idea of the photo of the Jewish woman and her children in the Holocaust which haunted Pilgrim throughout his life. The book is entertaining though slightly hackneyed in places. I think there is potential for the author to write with more authenticity in the future. Worth a look if you are a thriller reader.

Book Review Maeve Binchy This Year it will be Different

I bought this for pennies in a church book sale. Maeve Binchy seems to be a bestselling author so I thought I would see what she is about. The book is a group of short stories on the theme of Christmas. I was expecting heart warming and fuzzy but this is not what they were. The stories were sharply observed, dealing with the hypocrisies of middle class families in the festive season. There were straying banker husbands, lonely schoolteachers, ungrateful children and snooty grandmothers. The stories were very samey, stereotypical and frankly tiresome. I noticed there were no straying wives, only husbands with good jobs. Dull.

Diet Diary

I have been trying for months to lose my last 5 kg of extra weight most of which seems to be belly fat. I have had no success. I just keep losing a few pounds and then gaining it back. So this week I have decided to get serious. I thought if I blog about it I will be motivated not to cheat.
Day One Monday
On waking mug of hot water with slice of lemon. This is good for rehydration.
Yoga 40 minutes Sun salutations. Back bends.
Meditation.
Breakfast 300 g of black grapes with large dollop of alpro soy vanilla yogurt.
Black coffee
Exercise: twenty minutes jogging outside
Lunch: plain baked potato with drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and half a packet of baby leaf salad.
Decaf coffee
Snack: Decaf coffee
Dinner: roasted beetroot soup with dollop of alpro soy yogurt. Two bowls.
Decaf coffee.
That’s it. Comes in at around a thousand calories.
I am trying to be vegan and gluten and sugar free as much as possible. The vegetables are all organic from our local box scheme.
I would describe my mood as medium and I didn’t feel very energetic. Let’s see what the scales say tomorrow. This morning I was 55 kg.
Wish me luck.

Day 2 Tuesday
Disaster strikes.
Hitting the scales this morning I am 54.9 kg. Hardly any loss. I am disappointed after the hard work of yesterday. I realise my alpro soy vanilla yogurt has sugar in it. No wonder I am addicted to it. This is a salutary warning to always read labels. I am resolving to be added sugar free from now on.
Breakfast: hand knitted muesli: oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almond flakes and raisins. Served with unsweetened almond milk.
Water with slice of lemon.
Black coffee.
Lunch: two dark rye ryvitas with vegan Mayo, tomato and quorn beef slices
Decaf coffee
Snack: two pieces vegan dark chocolate. Oops! Tea
Dinner: aloo saag (spinach and potato curry). Orange juice.
Decaf coffee
Drank lots of water.
Exercise: 70 mins yoga, 15 mins weightlifting

About 1200 calories.
I ate a bit more than I meant today but pretty healthy choices so quite pleased. The curry I made for dinner was gorgeous. I am a real sucker for Indian food. Muesli is very calorific but full of healthy fats so good for setting you up for a long day.
My legs are aching from all the yoga I did but it felt good.
Mood: good
Energy: medium
Let’s see what the scales say tomorrow.

Day 3 Wednesday

Success! Scales say 54.6 kg so I am very pleased. Just have to keep the downward momentum.
Reflecting on yesterday I found it hard to avoid gluten. It was in my rye ryvitas so I have thrown them out as well as the vanilla yogurt. I also had sugar in the chocolate. Quorn has egg in it so is not vegan. Must have more willpower!
On waking I found there was virtually nothing in the house I could eat for breakfast. Never fear though the organic veg box delivery is due today.
Breakfast: two soy sausages, fried onions and sweet corn. Tiger Tiger gluten free tomato ketchup.
Water with slice of lemon.
Black coffee.
200 ml of fresh orange juice.
Sadly the sausages had gluten in them. Foiled again but I needed to use them up. I enjoyed breakfast and felt very satisfied.

70 mins yoga and meditation.

Lunch: 200 g of chickpeas with baby leaf salad, black grapes and balsamic vinegar. Decaf coffee.
Nothing forbidden in this meal!

Jogging: 20 mins
Walking: 30 mins

Dinner: Home made vegetable and lentil soup. Two bowls.

Vegan omega oil: one tablespoon.
About 1200 calories.

Healthy choices today. No cheats.
Mood: low to medium. Legs aching from yoga. Fairly lethargic.

Day 4 Thursday

Scales say 54.8 kg. Bit disappointed that I have gone up again and I thought I was so good yesterday. All I can think of to do is to lower the calories still further. There is sugar in the ketchup so that will have to go. I can cut down on the oil – no frying. Organic veg box has arrived so I have lots of choices of vegetables. My legs are still aching this morning.

Breakfast: spinach smoothie (spinach, almond milk, orange juice, peanut butter, vegan omega oil blend)
Black coffee

Exercise: yoga 70 mins
Meditation
Weightlifting 15 mins

Snack: 30 g walnuts

Lunch: salad. Chickpeas with raw spinach, carrot, green beans, portobello mushroom and vegan mayonnaise.

Dinner: veggie chilli with brown rice
Two glasses of red wine.

Oh dear! Way over calories today. About 1400.
I thought I made healthy choices but I am way over on fat. I shouldn’t have had the vegan Mayo on my salad as it is very fatty. And I know…the wine, the wine! Oh well, try harder tomorrow.

Day Five Friday

The scales say 54.8 today so I am the same weight. I think the wine is to blame so must be good today.

Legs only slightly aching this morning.

Breakfast: hot water with lemon. Banana, plum, 35 g oatmeal, pumpkin seeds with unsweetened almond milk. Black coffee.

Lunch: roasted Moroccan vegetables with couscous, Boots fruit snack pack, Innocent smoothie: banana and strawberry. Unexpectedly lunching on the hoof today so Boots meal deal.

Dinner: veggie burger with large helping of green beans.

Exercise: 40 mins yoga, 30 mins walking.

About 1000 calories today. Pleased with my healthy choices. Did not manage as much exercise as I hoped due to work commitments. Really hard to be vegan and gluten free when out and about.

Day Six Saturday

Weight: 54.7 kg Tiny amount of weight loss.

Breakfast: banana, hot water with lemon

Exercise 30 mins aerobics, 30 mins walking.

Lunch: raw salad: spinach, red pepper, tomatoes, mushroom with haricot beans. Two tablespoons of peanut butter.
Black coffee.

Dinner:
Aduki bean vegan shepherds pie, peas, vegetarian gravy
Snacks: chocolates

About 1000 calories.

Healthy choices apart from cheating with the two chocolates. They were a gift though.

Day Seven Sunday

Scales say 54.7 kg. The same weight. I am feeling very sad that I have only lost 0.3 kg this week.

Breakfast: water with slice of lemon. Mexican veggie tofu scramble. Black coffee.

Late lunch: Tapas: patatas bravas, Greek salad, garlic mushrooms. Two glasses of red wine. Black coffee.

About 1000 calories.
Mood: low
Exercise: none. Rest day.
Reflections on the week

I was vegetarian and almost vegan. Contrary to popular belief the weight doesn’t simply drop when you become vegan. I only have a few pounds to lose but my body is not going to give up its weight easily. Next week calls for draconian measures: no wine, no nuts, oils, no chocolate, more exercise. I am going to concentrate on fresh raw fruit and vegetables and small portions.

Day 8 Monday

Weight : 54.7 kg No change.
Breakfast: banana
Lunch: raw salad: carrot, spinach, tomatoes, haricot beans, balsamic vinegar.
Dinner: miso soup with shitake mushrooms and watercress.
Exercise: 30 mins yoga, 15 mins weightlifting

I limited my caffeine to one drink.

Calories were drastically reduced today. Only 500 in total.

Tomorrow I am starting an elimination diet. I will be eating fruit and vegetables, avoiding gluten, soy and processed food. I will also be avoiding foods from the nightshade family: potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergine.
I MUST NOT CHEAT.

Day 9 Tuesday

Weight: 54.6 kg Tiny amount of weight loss.

Breakfast: quinoa with almond milk, blueberries and maple syrup.
This breakfast idea is from the Gwyneth Paltrow book It’s all good. Unusual idea for breakfast but I enjoyed it.

Lunch: avocado and mango salad with lime vinaigrette. Another Gwyneth Paltrow recipe. Delish.

Dinner: uh oh! Ate out at new casual restaurant in town and completely ruined the diet.
Tortilla chips and dips.
Halloumi burger with French fries.
Bellini and glass of white wine.
Aaaaaargh!
Why have I got no will power?

Exercise: 40 minutes yoga. Two hours walking.
Absolutely gorgeous day walking in the countryside. As close to paradise as it’s possible to get.

Day 10 Wednesday

Weight: 55.2 kg
Gained lots through cheat meal.
Back on the wagon today. Feel bad about my lack of will power. I have undone all of my good work earlier in the week.
Breakfast: porridge made with almond milk served with maple syrup. This was amazingly comforting and satisfying and filled me up for the whole morning.
Lunch: broccoli and arugula soup. This was another Gwyneth
Paltrow recipe. Simple and healthy. Tasted good.
Dinner: brown rice

Exercise: 70 minutes yoga, 15 minutes weight lifting

About 700 calories. Pleased with my healthy choices today. I was totally vegan and gluten free.
Mood: low

Day 11 Thursday

Weight: 54.8 kg Pleased with the loss from yesterday.
Breakfast: porridge made with oatmeal and brown rice drink with a teaspoon of ground flax seeds, a teaspoon of black roasted sesame seeds and maple syrup. Hot water with lemon.
Black coffee.
Lunch: mushroom soup two bowls. Gwyneth Paltrow recipe
Dinner: roasted beet, sweet potato with arugula salad. Apple cider vinaigrette dressing. This was a gorgeous meal.
Orange juice
Snack: handful of grapes
About 1200 calories.
Exercise: walking 30 mins
Felt tired and sleepy today for no apparent reason.

Day 12 Friday
Massive cheat day.
Three course meal and champagne at art gallery.
I am totally ashamed at my lack of willpower. I have undone all my good work.
Weight: 55.2 kg

So I need to be more ascetic. It is very difficult to maintain a diet and have a social life.
Time to get tough with myself.

Day 14 Sunday

Breakfast: hot water with lemon
Black coffee
Lunch: banana, decaf coffee
Dinner: broccoli and arugula soup
Exercise: two hour walk
Mood: medium
Calories: 250
Deliberately low calorie today to undo my weekend splurge.

Day 15 Monday

Weight: 54.5 kg
Lot of weight loss overnight. Very pleased. Proof very low calories works. It’s just not very enjoyable. Feel headachey and slightly ill.
Breakfast: porridge made with oatly. Sweetened with stevia.
Black coffee.
Snack: green tea
Exercise: 20 minutes yoga. 15 minutes weightlifting. 30 mins walk.
Lunch: fennel and apple soup
Decaf coffee
Dinner: salad: rocket, baby leaves, celery, cucumber. No dressing.
Glass of cloudy apple juice.
Calories: 500
Mood: medium

Day 16 Tuesday

Weight: 54 kg
Another good loss of half a kilo. Extreme low calories works.
Breakfast: porridge made with Oatly. Sweetened with Stevia.
Hot water with a slice of lime. Black coffee.
Lunch: Fennel and apple soup.
Green tea.
Dinner: salad: avocado, cucumber, celery, mushrooms, watercress with balsamic vinegar dressing.
Decaf coffee.
Exercise: 30 mins yoga.

Day 17 Wednesday

Weight: 53.5 kg
Half a kilo loss. Low calorie diet is working.
Breakfast: hot water with twist of lime.
Porridge with almond milk, sweetened with stevia. Orange juice.
Snack: black coffee
Lunch: stir fried spinach, mushrooms, spring onions and peas with ginger, chilli flakes and salt.
Dinner: out at Pizza Express. Garlic bread. Super food salad. One glass of chianti. Cheat meal but tried to stay reasonably healthy.
Snacks: appletizer, diet coke, coffee
Way over on calories today – about 1400.
Exercise: hour’s walk

Day 18 Thursday
Weight: 54 kg Paying for my cheat meal. Sigh.

Book Review The Light Between Oceans ML Stedman

I very much enjoyed this book. Tom is a lighthouse keeper on the island of Janus off the west coast of Australia. He is recently returned from the First World War. In spite of some psychological damage he is a good, strong man. He marries Isabel and takes her back to Janus where they live a happy though isolated life. Isabel’s tragedy is she has three miscarriages and her longing for a baby is killing her inside. One day a boat washes up on the island containing a dead man and a very much alive baby….
This book is beautifully written with exquisite descriptions of nature. It is deeply sad but with flashes of hope…much like life.

Book Review China Mieville Un-Lun-Dun

I did not enjoy this book. I have tried to like China Mieville. After all he is so trendy. He wears black. He is a Marxist. He works out. All very cool. He even teaches creative writing so you would expect his books to be good. I read The City and the City and I didn’t like it. This one is a children’s book but the theme is similar. There is a strange parallel London which can be travelled to by means of various portals. This London is where the old, unwanted things of London go. There is rubbish, bus conductors, smog and dead people. Two girls, one of whom is the chosen one, the Shwazzi, find their way to this other London where they meet a range of strange characters and do battle with monsters. The book is imaginative indeed. The fantasy world is grotesque with echoes of Alice in Wonderland. The writing is simple with mostly dialogue and short descriptions. The characters are undeveloped and uninteresting. I found it impossible to care about them. There seems a lack of warmth in the book. I wish I was cool enough to like China Mieville’s work but alas I am not.