Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Adversity is like a strong wind...It tears away from us all the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be. ~ Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha is a book about adversity and also a seemingly factual account of life as a Geisha in 1930's Japan. The book is written by Arthur Golden who is from Tennessee and majored in Japanese studies. A strange fact, of which I will discuss later in this review. The book is highly acclaimed and was recreated as a movie.
Essentially Golden chose to write about a Geisha who was not born into the trade, but sold into it. As a child our main character's name is Chiyo, later in her life her name is changed to Sayori in reflection of her status as a Geisha. Chiyo was ripped away from her home and family and forced into Geisha training. She is expected to be grateful for the opportunity, but in her heart she is indignant. The book follows her journey towards becoming a Geisha and her ultimate surrender of childhood.
The theme of this historical fiction novel is adversity and Golden does well at entwining hardships throughout Sayori's life. Golden's prose are beautiful and the book contains many thoughtful turns of phrase for the reader to ponder. The characters are well written and quite dynamic. However that is where my praise ends.
I found it strange that an American man chose to write a story about female Japanese Geisha. I don't expect authors to only write characters of which they can relate to. But I was shocked when I looked at Golden's picture and description before reading the book and I was never able to put it out of my mind. Golden obviously conducted a fair amount of research into Japanese and Geisha culture, which showed through in the novel. But Sayori gave more of a factual account of her life rather than an emotional one, and this disappointed me. Her story is raw and at times inhumane. Her story fell flat because Golden couldn't quite convey what it was truly like to be Sayori, an enslaved young girl who's expected to honour the profession cruelly chosen for her.
Before reading Memoirs of a Geisha I had very little knowledge of what a Geisha is. The book definitely does a great job of introducing a westerner to the craft. Golden also gives a good overall impression of Japanese culture and customs during the great depression and WWII.
I recommend this book to those who are interested in learning a little more about Japanese culture from a more factual point of view. If you are looking for raw emotion in a read, you won't find it here. Which is a disappointment, as Sayori's tale provides so much to work with.
Have you read the book? Leave your comments below!