Book Review: Memoirs Of A Geisha

I’ve chosen a highly recommended novel, set in one of the countries Phileas Fogg visited, in Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days, to review.

The fourth stop on the journey is Japan, so I have chosen to read Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden.

This was quite possibly my favourite book of the entire week.

Set in the time of World War 2, Memoirs Of A Geisha is a historical novel about a young girl named Chiyo. She is taken from her home village to Kyoto, the city which used to be the capital of Japan, to train to become a Geisha. She tries to make friends along the way, but makes rivalries amongst the other women in her okiya, particularly Hatsumomo. Chiyo completes her rigorous training regime and becomes Sayuri, a beautiful and influential Geisha.

I found this book so informative, and I was eager to read on – not only to unravel Golden’s story but to learn more about Japanese culture and history. Golden is certainly an expert on all things Japanese – an extract from the dust jacket on the book says:

‘Arthur Golden… is a 1978 graduate of Harvard College with a degree in art history, specialising in Japanese art. In `1980 he earned an M.A in Japanese history from Columbia University where he also learned Mandarin Chinese. After a summer at Beijing University, he went to work at a magazine in Tokyo.’

The descriptions in this book were stunning and Chiyo was a very imaginative narrator; all she described was linked in some way to nature and the elements, creating a calm and soothing atmosphere.

I liked the fact that retrospective narration was used in places because it was like the narrator was “pressing pause” to explain a certain Japanese custom or character in further detail so we could understand better.

Yet I still found Memoirs Of A Geisha quite shocking to read. I began this book by thinking that a Geisha was just a Japanese prostitute. Once we see Chiyo take part in non-sexual acts such as tea parties, dance and the art of conversation, I thought I was proved wrong. However, once Chiyo reaches adulthood, sex is permitted and finding a Danna (a kind of “sugar daddy”, I think) is actively encouraged by her okiya. Here, the book takes a slightly darker turn as Chiyo effectively prostitutes herself and this was more difficult to read.

Nonetheless, I still found this book incredibly educational and enjoyable, and if you want to learn about Japanese culture, I strongly recommend it to you.


– Judith


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