Sunday, 13 October 2013

Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs Of A Geisha

I haven't given Memoirs Of A Geisha a number because I first read it and loved it when I was either 20 or 21, so it doesn't count towards the challenge. The reason I'm reflecting on it again now is because I re-read it for book club last month.

It is the story of Chiyo, a young girl from a fishing village sold into the geisha culture by her elderly father as her mother lays dying. Her older sister Satsu fairs worse - directly sold into prostitution. Geisha are not prostitutes in traditional Western understanding terms more entertainers for wealthy men.

What I loved about it the first time round was the elegance of the prose which I found poetic and evocative - a portrait of a time, place and tradition which has all but disappeared. It has the qualities which I so like about literature in general, a sense that the existence of the novel enables the reader the time travel.

On a second read it was surprising to me that I did not empathise with Chiyo anymore after she transforms into Sayuri, I found the life of the Geisha girls shallow and repetitive and Sayuri herself an ungrateful and at times nasty character.

There are certain points I think at which the reader is meant to be cheering Sayuri on but I couldn't help but feel concern for those who had been damaged by her actions rather than rejoice in her triumphs.

I hated her ultimate vindictiveness towards a character who had always, always taken care of her and I felt her "romance" with the Chairman lacked foundation, substance or credibility.

It's a really, really odd thing to love a book on first read and feel less enamoured of it on second read and I have to say that I think it must be something to do with maturity and the way your views on life and what you see as love change as you age.

My different opinions on the events in the book have shown me how much I have changed in ten years, and that's a really odd sensation. Try it with a book you once loved and see if the book is a different book because you are a different person.

Verdict : Still a good read 8/10

Destination : Keep, maybe I'll read it again in my 40s!  


  1. I felt a bit like you when I reread it but as you say, it's still a great read. Hated the film version and the liberties it took with the traditional dress and general appearance. A geisha would NEVER have wandered outside of the okiya with her hair all over the place and kimono in disarray like the Hatsumomo character, and indeed she doesn't in the book. The curse of cinema adaptations :-)

  2. Doesn't Hatsumomo look a bit of a state in the book when she gets kicked out though?

  3. I agree though the film was awful