Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden: Review


4.5 out of 5

This is a book I seriously cannot stop raving about. The only reason it hasn’t got a 5 is because I haven’t done enough research yet to determine its accuracy. But it changed me as a reader and I don’t think I’ll ever not think it’s phenomenal so I thought now was probably the time to give it some kudos.

So if you have no idea what this one’s about (or just want to remind yourself) here’s the  description:

In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.

We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child’s unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha’s elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O’Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work – suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.

The characters and culture created a narrative that stayed with me for a long time after reading it. I was on holiday in Turkey (In the Gumbet, Bodrum area for those of you interested in travel) when I settled down to read this one, and despite the many distractions – 38 degree (C) temperatures, cheap cocktails, dogs, cruises, food, friends and sociable Turkish waiters – I really did get immersed in the historic Japanese Geisha culture, a world far removed from Turkey and England, Canada and anything I’d ever experienced before.

As a foreigner of this rich culture I cannot possibly comment on accuracy or any of that jazz but I can say that as a outsider it captivated me and made me interested in a culture I’d previously had no affiliation with; embarrassingly I had never even considered that I might be interested in it at all. Surely that, if anything, is a positive outcome. It prompted me to read other oriental books such as Empress Orchid by Anchee Min (a fantastic record of the life of Empress Dowager Cixi of the Chinese dynasty, well worth a read.) I hope soon to read a more real account of the lives of Geisha women as I find their practice and strict ritual both fascinating and humbling. I hope to read something by the truly most famous Geisha (or  Geiko as she was famous in Kyoto and this was the term for it there): Mineko Iwasaki. Whilst Arthur Golden interviewed her for his book Memoirs of a Geisha, she later sued on the basis of breached confidentiality, an action that slightly taints my view of Golden’s work. He basically outed her for breaking the Geisha code of silence by mentioning her in the book’s acknowledgements and put her in a very difficult situation. Her own autobiography Geisha of Gion is next on my oriental TBR and I look forward to drawing comparisons between the two texts.

Mineko Iwasaki, Picture source:

All things considered I cannot undo the experience Golden’s rendition had for me and I wouldn’t hope to do so. I hope you consider reading Memoirs of a Geisha and that it unlocks for you what it did for me, a whole new world of reading experiences and cultural interest.

I’d also like to give a quick mention to for helping me journey between books on this voyage of genre discovery – I owe you guys one!

Till’ next time – #HappyReading


  1. Tiana | 21st Jan 17

    I’ve been so curious to read this book. I’ve seen it around, but I just have been a little on the fence to read it for whatever reason, but it’s good to know that you enjoyed it so much!

    • tackfiction | 31st Jan 17

      It’s honestly one of my top reads of all time – definitely give it a go when you get the time! I’d love to know what you think!

Leave A Comment

Leave a Reply