Memoirs of a Geisha
Hardcover: 768 pages
Publisher: Random House Large Print (November 15, 2005)
At the start of this review, I must admit that I read this book after I watched the movie. Therefore, I found that a lot of the time, when I read the story I was visualising much of what I’d seen in the cinema.
Usually, when I’ve watched a movie or read a book, I’ve been disappointed because the stories would never tally but in the case of Memoirs of a Geisha, this was not so. I enjoyed the movie and I enjoyed the book even more.
One of the most important things about this book I enjoyed was that it was written in first person and when I did a little research into author and the book, I discovered that Mr. Golden had first attempted to write his book in third person. He says, in this interview, “But I did it in third person twice, and really only went to first person when I realized that I wasn’t going to get the book written that I really wanted to write, unless I made this kind of imaginative leap into the mind of the character.”
Mr. Golden, in that same interview stated that he first had the idea of writing the book when he was still living in Japan. He came across a gentleman who was the son of a geisha and that was the moment when Mr. Golden realised that this was an interesting topic to explore.
As a work of cultural import, this novel is exciting because it gives the reader an insight into a world that has remained exotic, even for someone who lives in the Far East. One of the most poignant moments for me was a very small point in the novel – for all of my life I wondered where Malaysians had derived the words ‘Ringgit’ and ‘sen’ to denote our currently and it was to my delight that I learned that the word ‘sen’ came from the Japanese currency and I assume we must have gained the same when Malaya was occupied by the Japanese during World War 2.
Essentially, this is romantic tale and it begins with a Translator’s Note and from first those passages, one is told that Sayuri was indeed one of the most famous of geisha who ever lived. Jakob Haarhuis makes it a point to say that Sayuri narrated the tale of her life in Japanese and that he has taken extensive notes and even recorded her voice. We are then introduced to Sayuri’s own voice and it is she who tells the tale.
Sayuri was born and given the name Chiyo. When she was young, she and her sister were taken from her family, separated and eventually, Chiyo was ‘sold’ to an okiya as a maid, with the view of eventually becoming a geisha. Chiyo faces an uphill struggle for she comes face to face with Hatsumomo, the villain in this story. There are also the lesser characters like Aunty, Mother, Mr. Bekku, Mr. Tanaka, the various suitors and a supposed ally, Pumpkin. However, at the age of twelve, Chiyo comes across a man whom she calls ‘the Chairman’ and is captivated by him. From that moment on, she resolves that she will do all she can to become a geisha and as luck would have it, she is taken under the wing of Mameha, a renowned geisha is Gin, the section of Kyoto where the geisha live.
It is a testament to Mr. Golden’s ability to write successfully in Sayuri’s voice for he says that once the book was published, many people wrote to him to ask him how they may contact Sayuri.
It is a novel that I would highly recommend for someone who would like, not only to be entertained, but to learn about a people, a culture and race that is considered far removed from ‘normal’ life.