The Versatilist

A rhythmic space for Hindi Poetry, Book Reviews and Travel Stories

Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

Author: Arthur Golden
Published: 1998
Publisher: Vintage Books
Pages: 496


With a backdrop of Japan in 1920s, this book takes you through a range of emotions, and most of the time leaves you wondering whether to feel deeply appalled or hopelessly optimistic. The story is based on the character of a peasant girl named Chiyo Chan. The narrative takes off when two little sisters are sold off by a helpless father in hope of a better future. One of them, ‘Chiyo’, blessed with beautiful eyes, goes on to become a ‘Geisha’ by a bizarre combination of destiny and choice. ‘Gei’ in Japanese means Art; therefore Geisha by corollary is an artist, the one who entertains men in various ways, for a price!

Through ‘Sayuri’, Chiyo’s Geisha name, the book gives a compelling account of her profound feelings during her days in Gion, which is more popularly known as the Geisha district of Japan. It also elaborately covers the intricate details of a Geisha’s life like the notion of geisha’s cultural heritage, the challenging training in music and dance and finesse in traditional Japanese Tea ceremony. The author also beautifully highlights the indispensable elements of a Geisha’s profession such as wearing an opulent make up, dressing up in exquisite Kimonos, finding a man to be her ‘mizuage’ and ‘danna’, keeping the secrets of her customers and veiling a thousand emotions inside her.

Throughout the story, Sayuri’s destiny suffers massive twists influenced by the other characters like the Chairman, Nobu, Mameha, Pumpkin, Mother and Hatsumomo. Sayuri braves these uncertainties, the daily struggles of the life in Okiya and the almost annihilating blow of the Second World War to eventually realize the only ‘dream’ she had.

Prudently enough, the author manages to evade the complexity of either exalting or disparaging the profession of a Geisha. A little dragged in some portions, but overall, the book is an intriguing read which informs and stirs a reader’s mind in more ways than one. Happy Reading!

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

  1. Lovely review! I had Memoirs of a Geisha on my TBR pile but I wasn’t sure whether it would be my cup of tea, but the insight into a completely different culture sounds really interesting. – Judith 😊

    1. Hi Bronte, thankfully I didn’t know about the criticisms until I finished reading. So I enjoyed an unbiased reading. For someone who didn’t know much about the Japanese culture, this book was a good source of information. I think Arthur has done justice to the work. 🙂 Let me know your thoughts.

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