The Big Read

No 62. – Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden Read ??/11/13

You may have noticed that I had over a month without finishing a book. This is not because I wasn’t reading anything it was just that I started David Copperfield only to stop 1/3 into it after about a month because that is what always seems to happen when I read Dickens. But anyway. I started on Memoirs of a Geisha as part of my research for a college project on kimonos. Now I didn’t really expect it to be particularly useful in terms of how kimono are made but it was certainly a wonderful insight into the culture of Japan.

It is the memoir of this fictional geisha Sayuri leading up to and during World War II and it is one of the most evocative books I have ever read. Golden completely creates this world that you can step into as someone who knows nothing about Japan and explore every detail. He makes you understand some of the most complex elements of Japanese culture effortlessly, such as the ritualistic dress of a geisha and the subtle role she plays.

Although this novel includes the Second World War there is next to no politics; apart from where it effects the geisha. This world, carefully preserved for hundreds of years, starts to fall apart and as a reader you feel it dying;  you feel it slip away. The contrast of the colour and luxury of the life of a geisha compared to the grey toil of war work makes it even more precious in my mind, the world Golden creates seems like a magic kingdom and I loved being there; I know I shall read this book again to visit it once more.

Sayuri is a wonderful narrator, geisha make entertaining an art form and she captivates you with her words but her story is just as engrossing. She over comes loss, hardship, abuse and ill-treatment and she perseveres until she achieves her aim of becoming a geisha and to top it off she becomes the best. It is a wonderful story, you long for everything to turn out right in the end and when it does it doesn’t feel at all trite because you saw the struggling Sayuri went through to get there; she earned it.

Plus there is always something attractive to me in reading about different cultures. Memoirs of a Geisha has all the exotic oriental-ism that has been captivating westerns for centuries. But this novel doesn’t have the feel of old clichés trotted out to appeal to western tastes, although it is written by an American. It feels more like a portal to another,previously very secret, world.

Rating: 5/5

Would recommend to: anyone who wants to escape.

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