Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Amazon Synopsis: A seductive and evocative epic on an intimate scale, that 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. 

I picked up this gorgeous copy of Memoirs of a Geisha when I went on holiday to a lodge and happened upon a British Heart Foundation. It cost me £2.99 for a seemingly brand new copy. On this holiday I was reading the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini for school and did pick it up after I finished. Unfortunately, at this time the Kite Runner's pretentious narrative had drained me and I put it down again. That was in the November of 2012. About three months ago (I know I am behind on reviews) I picked up this beautiful book again to read in between finishing various coursework. Since I have recently watched a lot of anime (and have just finished a study on the language used in it for my English Language course) I was already familiar with the Japanese setting and pronunciations so I am glad I read it now.
The story follows former Geisha Sayuri as she recounts her life as a trainee and then successful Geisha in Gion before and during the early years of World War II. The writing style is unique in the way it is written as an official memoir. Golden even added a 'translators note' at the beginning for a fake professor apparently being told this story. It is continuously written as if Sayuri is talking to this professor and not as if it is just being written. This is a wonderful writing style because as a reader you find yourself falling in love with the character and voice of Sayuri as a human and not just a character. It is something that makes this book a modern classic.

The plot itself breaks hearts. Originally Sayuri tells her story as Chiyo, the name she was born with and recounts how she came to the Okiya that trained her. The life of a young Chiyo is tragic but not written in an overly dramatic style as Sayuri's voice successfully makes it seem as if an old woman is remembering flashes of her childhood. The early characters are compared with nature and animals as a child would remember and emotions are distorted. The narrative and story grow along side the character in a rare way. It leads you down a path with the character so smoothly it is impossible to let go for very long.

By the end of the book I did find that I was becoming annoyed a little. Sayuri's actions and the consequences of them were selfish and did not make sense to me. I came to sympathise more with a secondary character more than the main one. This is just because I was an outsider though and this book truly showed how emotions rule head and heart.

This book is a modern classic that is impossible to just put down at the end. The poetic writing and beautiful characters leave you contemplating a lot of life when you finish.

Rating: 4/5


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