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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Review by Anique

memoirs of a geisha book cover

Memoirs of a Geisha, written by Arthur Golden, is a historical fiction book that presents itself as a series of memoirs. The story takes place in the mid-20th century. The protagonist of the book, Chiyo Sakamoto, whose name is later changed to Sayuri Nitta, was born in the Japanese city of Kyoto. Kyoto is located on the island of Honshu, and is known for its wooden houses (Sayuri calls hers the “tipsy house” as it looks unsteady). Sayuri lives a simple life in Kyoto, a small city where she lives with her family in their “tipsy house”. During the summers she goes to play in the lake with the other children, and when she comes home she spends time with her mother (whom she is very similar to), her father (a solemn man), and her sister. Near the beginning of the book, Sayuri finds out her mother is terminally ill. Her father sells her and her sister, Satsu, and from there she becomes a maid at the Nitta Okiya. An okiya is an establishment where a girl lives in and is funded by until she becomes a Geisha.  

Sayuri arrives at the Nitta okiya, and leaves her sister behind. The Nitta okiya is located in the Gion, a popular geisha district. At that point, Sayuri is miserable. Without any family, she feels completely alone in the okiya, except for her new friend, who she calls Pumpkin. She struggles to make herself at home as a maid in the okiya because Hatsumomo, the only Geisha in the okiya, has been cruel to her since the day she arrived. To make matters worse, Hatsumomo being the only Geisha in the okiya means there is nothing Sayuri can do about her abuse since everyone must tend to Hatsumomo.  

Over the years, as Sayuri’s life evolves and adapts, World War II comes around. This is one of the greatest hardships during Sayuri’s life because World War II hit Japan extremely hard. Supplies were hard to come by and people resorted to new, less luxurious ways to make a living. 

Sayuri uses her wild imagination in order to make it through every day. One day, when she meets the Chairman of a company (whom she named the Chairman), she finds the inspiration she needs in order to work hard and achieve her goals.  

 “We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course.” (Chapter 9) 

 Sayuri often compares life lessons to other things we see daily, which is an incredible way of viewing these things. Memoirs of a Geisha is a great book for those who love learning about and following others’ ways of life. Sayuri overcomes many hardships before the end of the book, which always keeps the book thrilling. This book is recommended for those who love biographies, as the only difference between biographies and memoirs is that memoirs are told through the eyes of the protagonist, rather than through an outside view of the protagonist. Memoirs allow readers to understand the thought process of the protagonist, which is an excellent element of this book.  

This book was one of the best I’ve read in a while. At the beginning it was difficult to get through, as the early life of Sayuri was a very sad one. The end of the book, however, made it all worth it. Seeing the way Sayuri’s life ends up towards the end of the book was one of the most amazing parts of the book. Memoirs of A Geisha is one of my all time favorite books now, as the emotion and excitement portrayed in the book made it a great page-turner. I highly recommend this book to anyone of any age.  

Checkout Memoirs of a Geisha from the Newport Beach Public Library.


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