[BOOK REVIEW] Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden

Sometimes, avoiding celebrated books is not always a clever thing to do. Memoirs of a Geisha was a pleasant, engaging, lovely read.

Memoirs of a GeishaMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes, avoiding celebrated books is not always a clever thing to do. Memoirs of a Geisha was a pleasant, engaging, lovely read.

Like many discerning readers, I avoid celebrated books like the plague, until they’re $0.50 in an op shop. Then I’ll buy it out of curiosity. Sometimes it doesn’t work and friends buy me ghastly books as gifts (ahem, Da Vinci Code). But Memoirs of a Geisha was an op-shop purchase, and it’s the best fifty cents I’ve spent in a long time.

There are two key things that immediately engaged my appreciation for this work’s existence. The first is the unfailing honesty of the author who, in forewords and acknowledgements, is very clear about the process of gaining the story, and of his own failings. The second is the way in which the voice of Sayuri herself has been rendered.

It is difficult sometimes, in assessing the value of a memoir, to determine whether or not it has been appropriately developed. This particular story has so much about it of the original telling, that its value for me is very high. Reading the book, deeply immersed in a personal story that feels like it’s being whispered in your ear, I found myself startled when the narrator pulled out of the story to explain things.

It’s very much like a spoken word experience. The story is highly visual, and the occasional narrator intervention breaks the spell very slightly. Is it perhaps a measure of the subject’s ability to hold a conversation and entertain?

Having only just concluded the reading of Memoirs of a Geisha, I feel enriched for having spent the time with Sayuri, and learning about her life. Her struggles may have appeared petty at times – like all human struggles – but that is hardly a criticism. I find myself now yearning for someone to write the story of another Geisha in Gion at the time, one who might have known Sayuri and could give us another perspective. That would be terribly interesting.

But, as I say, a beautiful, pleasant read – made all the more so by the honesty and forthrightness of the man who penned it. Very much recommended.

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