Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is definitely worth all of the praise that it has received since its publication in 1997. Since that date, an Oscar winning film adaptation has also been made. It is quite easy to see why this book has become so popular; the language is stunning, and the overall plot is intriguing and entertaining. The story centers around Chiyo, a Japanese girl with striking grey-blue eyes, as she grows to become one of the most famous geisha in Japan. She starts out as a normal girl with her sister, living a simple life with her family. It all changes when Mr. Tanaka notices her beauty, and buys her from her parents. Like all possible geisha, she is sold to an okiya, a place to stay while she learns the trade. Like most protagonists in stories, she becomes the enemy of one Hatsumomo, a geisha who harbors a jealousy for Chiyo and her beauty. As punishment for various conflicts with her owners, Chiyo is sent on a trip to town, where a chance encounter changes her life for the second time. She meets the Chairman, with whom she falls in love instantly. She immediately promises herself that she will do all in her power to be with him. However, this is far from any conventional love story. Conflicts are abundant, as geisha are under intense scrutiny. I loved how much the book’s plot changed, and how every guess I could have about where it was going couldn’t be more wrong.
The book keeps you on your feet, and all the while teaches you about the complex culture of the Japanese geisha. I found myself reading this almost as a fantasy, because the culture was so new and magical to me. Memoirs of a Geisha is a work of fiction, but Arthur Golden researched the culture so that all the customs of the geisha culture are fact. I loved learning as much as you do from reading this book. The intricacies of the makeup and kimono are described so well that I can see them wonderfully. Arthur Golden has a very descriptive writing style that draws the reader in. He crafts wonderful statements that are easy to imagine: “I could no more have stopped myself from feeling that sadness than you could stop yourself from smelling an apple that has been cut open on the table in front of you” (269). This as a very apt statement, and I experience smelling apples all the time, so I could easily understand her feelings better. The same effect occurs with the line: “…Our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper” (428). I loved imagining this effect; it makes such a beautiful picture in my mind.
Memoirs of a Geisha is overall a wonderful read. The descriptive voice of Arthur Golden is ever present and entertaining. The major themes of love and persistence are sprinkled about and truly make the reader think and assess their own character. I myself like to wonder about what my choices would be if I was in Chiyo’s situation, and how they would differ. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an entertaining read filled with descriptive language and well developed characters. The protagonist’s journey is cannot be compared to any that I have read, and I like to think I have read quite a few. Overall, the story, filled with the astounding geisha culture and lovely characters, creates a truly stunning literary work of art.