Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: abuse, sex, human trafficking, violence, war.

Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars


This book is another that has sat on my bookshelf but never been read. I’d seen the movie a few times, and knew it had to be good because I thought the movie was good. As always, the book was even better.

As I’m sure you all know (because seriously, this book has been out for TWO DECADES!) the novel is the fictional memoirs of a young girl names Chiyo (who becomes Sayuri) who was sold as a young child to an okiya, a geisha house. She suffers the loss of her family and abuse from those in her okiya, but finds hope when meeting a chairman who shows her an act of kindness. She eventually becomes a “little sister” under a great geisha named Mameha, and becomes a great geisha herself. All the while, she hopes that her training will bring her back to the chairman she met as a child, and does all that she dares to follow her own dreams, for once.

Image result for Memoirs of a Geisha

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

It’s a lovely story, and Golden has written it so convincingly (as far as I’m concerned) that several times I caught myself Googling to see if certain names were fictional or not! And because I had seen the movie, as I read I could hear the woman who narrated the movie narrate in my mind. I also really enjoyed the imagery in the novel- it was a good balance between descriptive and concise. Plus, the similes and metaphors were a really nice touch to really portray details in Sayuri’s feelings and environment. For example:

“The walls were covered with a pale yellow silk whose texture gave a kind of presence, and made me feel held by them, just as an egg is held by it’s shell.”

Another thing I appreciated was the conversational narration that reminded the reader of who a certain bypassing character was- as if Golden knew that if he didn’t add that information, the reader would go leafing through the pages to place the name.

Overall, I loved the ability to see through the eyes of Sayuri, and to spot the cultural differences not only in the geisha way of life, but in the Japanese way of life. Even though I had seen the movie and knew where the general story line was going, I got so caught up in the experience with her that many times I didn’t know that I already knew the outcome. It was a very good read, which of course I didn’t doubt, and I’ll certainly be returning it to my bookshelf.

Published: September 23, 1997

Publisher: Vintage Books USA

TL/DR: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is a fictional memoir based on real events about a child who was sold to a geisha house, and grew up learning to be a geisha.

Read it? Yes, it’s poignant and beautifully written despite the hardships faced by the main character.

Recommend it? Yes, especially to those who love memoir, historical fiction, or culturally diverse novels.

Buy it? Definitely- it’s a bestselling backlist novel, and there are plenty of secondhand copies available.

Watch the movie? I think it’s a visually beautiful movie, so yes watch it, but read the book first, as you will understand more.

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Categories: Book Review, Culturally Diverse, Fiction, General, Historical

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