Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden Review

This is a bloody epic book at 500 pages so prepare to make a commitment. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this book, I had heard a mix of things from people and on the internet but even if people weren’t exactly in love with the book they all said for sure read it.

The book follows a young girl as she becomes a Geisha and what happens in her life, to the people around her and where she ends up at the end of her life. We are taken from Chiyo’s humble beginning in a fishing village through the turbulent teenage years of training and becoming an apprentice into her Geisha years as Sayuri which is interrupted by World War 2 and then the wind down of her career ending up in New York.

I was fascinated by the culture as it is described by Golden, obviously it is taken with a pinch of salt as this is a fiction novel, the detail that he goes into with this intricate world of tradition and order. There are a lot of specific words that he uses and with the culture being so removed from what I am used to it does feel like you get sucked into this fantasy world, it doesn’t feel like something that is on Earth until you encounter certain characters. The images created by Golden are magical even when Sayuri is going through troubles, there is an element of this tormented princess which is where my issues come up with the book.

This book is from a female point of view but it is written by a man and maybe that is why at times Sayuri can feel a little umm ‘wet’ if you will pardon the term. I say this because of what drives her; she is driven to achieve because she wants to get close to a man, everything she does is for him. Maybe it is the Geisha culture but I think there is more to people than stuff like that. After a while I found that grating as I just wanted her to grow a backbone and do something for herself not to be near some bloke who she feels would make her life better, I was just like ‘sweetie do your own thing’. Perhaps that is what Golden wants to do, show how frustrating it is to be a woman in some areas or professions. Not particularly ironic that the male characters are a bit more complex than the ladies.

I would recommend this book as one you should read as it is beautifully written but I would warn you that at times it can feel very ‘you need a man to be happy’ which is not an idea I work with. This book is getting a little dated as it was published in 1997 so that could maybe give a reason to the less than ideal attitude of our female protagonist.


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