Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Review)

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden


This is a seductive and evocative epic on an intimate scale, which tells the extraordinary story of a geisha girl. Summoning up more than twenty years of Japan’s most dramatic history, it uncovers a hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. From a small fishing village in 1929, the tale moves to the glamorous and decadent heart of Kyoto in the 1930s, where a young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York; it exquisitely evokes another culture, a different time and the details of an extraordinary way of life. It conjures up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of geisha – dancing and singing, how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the most powerful men.


This book has been sat on my TBR list since 2019 and due to an unexpected hour long break at work where I found myself without a book I fired up the Kindle app on my phone and began reading this book and then found I couldn’t put it down. 

This book begins in a small fishing village in a shack where there live two sisters and their parents. The father is a poor fisherman and when the mother falls sick a local successful businessman suggests sending the two daughters to the city for a new life which the father eventually agrees to. The story then moves to a geisha house in Kyoto where the youngest of the two sisters starts her new life. 

The story is told from the first person perspective of the younger sister who is called Chiyo. Chiyo begins her life in the Okiya as a servant where she must win the approval of those who now own her who she knows as Mother and Granny. If Mother and Granny approve of her she will be trained as a Geisha. However, there is someone who stands in her way and that is the Geisha who currently lives in the Okiya called Hatsumomo. Hatsumomo is an evil woman who has taken a dislike to Chiyo and through the story Hatsumomo works her hardest to stop Chiyo from advancing in anything. 

As the story goes on we learn how Chiyo becomes a Geisha and gets her Geisha name of Sayuri and what her life entails. We also learn how and who helps her to get to her life as a Geisha. Sayuri is telling us her story from her home in New York many years later. She shows us how the life of a Geisha isn’t all luxury but it is hard work and dominated by the world of men. A Geisha spends her whole existence trying to beguile and please men. 

This book is so full on and really informative and that is one of the main reasons I could not put it down. It is also beautifully written and a joy to read. The main reason that I did not give the book a full 5 Dragons was because I didn’t really like the ending. I just didn’t like what Sayuri was willing to do to get her own way and it involved hurting the one man who always tried his hardest to keep her safe and be kind to her. It is for that reason I give the book 4 out of 5 Dragons. 


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About the author

Arthur Golden was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was educated at Harvard College, where he received 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. Following a summer in Beijing University, he worked in Tokyo, and, after returning to the United States, earned an M.A. in English from Boston University. He resides in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children. 

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