Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a GeishaMemoirs of a Geisha
by Arthur Golden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Memoirs of a Geisha / 0-679-78158-7

This artful, veiled look into the hidden life of the geisha is incredibly captivating. The realism grips the reader instantly, as we read of a young girl's coming of age in a world where she must compete with her beauty, skill, art, and conversation in order to be considered a coveted companion for men.

Sayuri guides us realistically through her training, and shows us her childhood hopes and fears. Her hopes are the simple hopes of the poor: she hopes to have enough food, money, and shelter to survive and be comfortable. She does not dare hope to buy her freedom, nor does she know what she would accomplish with this freedom. After a chance meeting with the only man who ever treated her kindly without hoping for something in return, her hopes expand to include being a geisha for this man, which is the only interaction with him that she can imagine achieving. On the other hand, her fears are more complex: she fears the tyranny of the people who own her and live with her, and she fears that she will be a failure and will be forced to become a common prostitute. Most of all, she fears that she has no intrinsic worth or value.

It is difficult to say how much of this novel is real and how much is fiction. Certainly, the glimpses inside Sayuri's world ring true, but I think belaboring the "truth" of the story somehow misses the point. "Memoirs of a Geisha" transcends usual memoirs and instead becomes something else - a powerful tale of a young girl struggling for the only happiness within her reach.

~ Ana Mardoll

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