Japanese cherry blossoms - Memoirs of a Geisha book review

Memoirs of a Geisha

The distinctive white face, red lips and elaborately decorated hairstyle. It’s an enduring image of the Japanese Geisha, portrayed worldwide as the entrance to a world to which most of us mere mortals are not invited. Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha uncovers this world, layer by layer, offering readers a raw view of Japan’s veiled history.

A historical novel set against the backdrop of pre- and post-World War II Japan, Arthur Golden’s first person narrative is one of suffering, love, sacrifice and, ultimately, hope.

It’s the kind of hope that changes you; urges you forward. The kind that drives you to overcome every obstacle, every trial and tribulation.

Chiyo Sakamoto is a young girl who lives in a little tipsy house in the little fishing village of Yoroido. *A tipsy house is one that quite literally tips, it’s not some freaky booze house or anything. Okay…let’s carry on. Her life is simple and uncomplicated, yet she yearns for something more. Even at the tender age of nine, Chiyo imagines the grass is greener, and full of promise, on the elusive other side.

That afternoon when I met [him]…was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.”

That is, after all, what life is about…right? An amalgamation of highs and lows, good and bad, the hopeful and the hopeless.

As Chiyo is uprooted from her life, bound for the unknown, everything is ahead of her. Success and happiness surely lay just around the corner.

Life, however, rarely follows a smooth and uninterrupted path. It’s more akin to a river, flowing freely until it meets an obstacle that forces a change in course.

“We human beings are only a part of something very much larger. When we walk along, we may crush a beetle or simply cause a change in the air so that a fly ends up where it might never have gone otherwise. And if we think of the same example but with ourselves in the role of the insect, and the larger universe in the role we’ve just played, it’s perfectly clear that we’re affected every day by forces over which we have no more control than the poor beetle has over our gigantic foot as it descends upon it.”

You see, this path we’re on is ultimately a series of decisions and consequences. Loyalty and friendship; respect and honour; hope and happiness. Give up on life and it will give up on you.

Golden’s novel is a journey; for little Chiyo and for every reader who turns that very first page. Chiyo’s is not merely one from girl to geisha. It is a journey from hopelessness to hopefulness; from lost to found.

So, take up residence in the streets of Kyoto and watch, as the story unfolds before your very eyes.

“Our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.”


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Book review - Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden