There are a few books that you know are going to be great. They are going to be
everything you wanted and an utterly transformative experience.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden was one of those books. A book that when I saw
it in the book store something instantly resonated. So much so that when I finally got my hands on a used copy it took me maybe three years to finally read it. The already worn and well thumbed through novel sat on my shelf collecting dust at the very end of the book shelf, then it sat in a box when I moved out for college. Then one winter break while I was looking for something to read during a long trip across the country I stumbled upon it again at the bottom of a tub in the garage. a It had taken a few years before I could finally get around to it before I was in need of such a novel. Really glad to have waited.
If I had just devoured it the second I got all the details, I would have missed the intricacies and full beauty of this wonderful story. You know how when you love a story you try to push back the end? Either by not reading the last chapter, watching that last episode or pausing every single moment to take it in and make it last for as long as possible? That’s what I did with this book but not by not finishing it but by rereading passages. Whenever there was a particular moment or word that caught my eye it would be flagged either with a post-it or scrap of paper or pencil mark or folded page. Sometimes when there was a call back I could go back to that moment and bask in how Chiyo -the narrator- grew from then or how she excellently set up the reader for the twist or piece of irony. Totally recommended as a new way to lengthen your new reading experience!
Now, without further ado here are a few reasons why Memoirs of a Geisha is such a lovely and heartfelt book:
Aside from Chiyo the truly incredible narrator and protagonist who is one of the single greatest literary characters ever written, she is the only one who can tell her story. That is why you should read this novel, to hear this story from her. Chiyo was representing a culmination of experiences, traditions and characteristics of real Geisha life while still being her own unique person and not some caricature. Before reading this book I thought that it was simply translated
by Arthur Golden but discovered towards the end that this novel is a result of countless hours of research, admiration and respect for Geisha and Japanese culture. Chiyo is so real and sounds not only like a real Geisha but a real woman. a woman who has lived a full life. Hers was a life and a journey reflecting on human experience that is so moving and so provocative.
With just over 350 pages a whole life is shared with the reader. While Chiyo was looking back on her life there was still this sense that she was reliving these moments rather then just recounting them. This allowed for bits of dramatic irony to unfold or for more fine details to be planted early on for reveals later.
Now, historical fictions with an element of romance are a personal favorite and an unguilty pleasure, so that made this novel capture my heart even more. Chiyo begins her journey with discovering what love is and how many types of love there is!
Well, who is this novel for? Luckily a fairly large audience. Memoirs of a Geisha is a piece of historical fiction, a timeless romance, tragedy, success story, and an insight into the world of Geisha. So if you have any interest in learning about pre and post World War II in Japan, and how someone becomes a geisha, or another take on what love is, then you should read this classic.