Memoirs of a Geisha (Book Review)

Monday, April 25, 2011 § 7

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 504 pages
Publisher: Random House, Inc.
ISBN: 1400096898
With Film Version? Absolutely yes!

Number of Times Read: 4x
Nitta Sayuri recounts the story of her life first as the naive 9 year-old Chiyo, from a fishing village in Japan, sold by his father to a geisha house, where she was subject to the cruelty of the homeowners and the sadistic head geisha Hatsumomo. Her beauty stirred the jealousy of Hatsumomo, who wanted nothing more than to destroy Sayuri's geisha-hood even before she started undergoing training. An unexpected meeting with the Chairman roused her desire in becoming a geisha. She was taken under the wing of renowned geisha Mameha, who coincidentally was Hatsumomo's archenemy, and named her Sayuri. Trained with the artistic and social skills of a geisha, Sayuri quickly became one of the most celebrated geisha of her time. As the story went, it was revealed how big a role the Chairman played in Sayuri's life.

At a certain point in our lives, a certain event, no matter how small and obscure, leads us to what would become of us in the future. Ever since setting foot in the geisha district of Gion, Sayuri, as a child, had not known kindness as such she had found in the face of the Chairman. Before meeting him, the only thing on her mind is to run away and be anything but a geisha. After meeting him, she realized running away is out of the question and becoming a geisha is more favorable than a life of servitude or a life in the streets. The Chairman's simple act of talking to a grief-stricken child, giving her a coin for a cherry flavored ice cone changed the course of that child's life forever.

Probably the strongest emotion revealed in the storyline is Sayuri's desperation to get in the bad graces of the Chairman's closest friend, Nobu Toshikazu, when he was about to become her danna. How we ruin our dignity, how even when our future is at stake, we do crazy things out of desperation, because the one thing we want, but can not have, will forever be out of reach if we, like a flowing river, submissively let a certain event take its course. Sometimes, we have to intervene, take the path rarely taken, and whatever the result, surely it is better however dreary compared to the other life we so sheerly avoided. Indeed, Sayuri took the risk, and succeeded, with the help of Pumpkin, who ironically tried to sabotage her plan. Nobu, having learned of Sayuri's deceit, forever gave her up, thereby opening the door the Chairman ought to have entered a long time ago.

I picked Memoirs of a Geisha from the shelf not because of the provocative title, but for the intriguing reason that it was written by a male author. It always piqued my curiosity to read stories written by male authors using female voices, and vice versa. Arthur Golden is a master, having authored a debut novel so critically acclaimed internationally. Hadn't I known that he authored it, I would have thought that it was written by a real geisha from 1900s Japan. Previously, I didn't know much about pre-, intra- or post-war Japan and the preconception I had of geisha back then was that they were prostitutes. The book proved me wrong-- in fact, the term 'geisha' means 'artist' or 'artisan'.  Geisha were cultured ladies, skilled with music, dance and social graces. The book became like my source of information.

The book was perfectly written, there were no flaws. I expected Golden to slip, to somehow ruin the geisha voice with the perfect cadence into a form of 'literary desperation'. But he didn't, it was as though he has undergone a geisha's training himself. He was a geisha himself when he wrote the novel!

Buy or Borrow: Buy. I have read this book twice before seeing the movie, read it again for the third time after I saw it. And read it again to write this review. This book is best bought than borrowed or even watched. Though I might add that the film version did justice to the book version. I would recommend it to every book lover as well as people who seldom read at all. It is engaging and definitely worth your time and money, and would add to your best-book-collection.

Quotable Quotes:

"Sometimes, I think the things I remember are more real than the things I see."

"If you keep your destiny in mind, every moment in life becomes an opportunity for moving closer to it."

"A mind troubled by doubt can not focus on the course to victory."

"He was like a song I'd heard once in fragments but had been singing in my mind ever since."

"If you aren't the woman I think you are, then this isn't the world I thought it was."

"At the temple there is a poem called "Loss" carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it." 

"I don't think any of us can speak frankly about pain until we are no longer enduring it.

"We human beings are only a part of something very much larger."

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§ 7 Response to “Memoirs of a Geisha (Book Review)”

  • MG says:

    my first time here, unfortunately I havnt read it yet. hehehe. tnx for the review ^_^

  • @MG: no problem. thanks for dropping by. you really should read the book now that you have read my review. or watch the movie if you're not up to reading the book. ((:

  • krn says:

    surely i'll read this. :)

  • yesss.. i bet you'd want to read it over and again after reading it the first time. ((:

  • Anonymous says:

    what a nice review for my favorite book and movie, karen! such an intriguing story indeed!

  • Anonymous says:

    i love the movie, but i really didn't fully understand the story. when i read your review i thought wow so this how the story is and so i will have to read the book now. your writing is really good, karen, you ought be a writer!
    i specially love this bit: How we ruin our dignity, how even when our future is at stake, we do crazy things out of desperation, because the one thing we want, but can not have, will forever be out of reach if we, like a flowing river, submissively let a certain event take its course.

  • kayren says:

    thank you, anonymous readers! (;

    yeah, i love that too, can't believe it originated from my mind. memoirs of a geisha really brought it out from the depths of my soul. haha