Summary/Inside cover of book:
This story is a rare and utterly engaging experience. It tells the extraordinary tale of a geisha – summoning up a quarter century, from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan’s dramatic history, and opening a window onto a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation.
‘Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha with such gentle courtesy and determination that you are quickly brought under the spell of her character. She takes you by the hand and leads you into a world that is both formal and intimate, a world that I had only before glimpsed in the fleeting and beautiful images of traditional Japanese ink paintings…Memoirs of a Geisha is a wonderful achievement.’
I have read this book a dozen times, at least. It sits in my bookshelf, and is one I often pull out and re-read, because I love it so much. So, I guess that means that this is going to be a slightly biased review. Or do I love it because it truly is a good book? On Amazon, 1679 people (66%) gave it a rating of 5 out of 5 stars. On Goodreads, 99043 people (33%) gave it 5 out of 5. So perhaps I’m not the only one that loved it, after all.
The story is written in the first person, from the perspective of a retired geisha, known in her childhood at Chiyo, and later by her geisha name of Sayuri. It follows her training years as a geisha in intimate detail, and gives us an insight into what has traditionally been a very private and secret world. How much of it is true to what actually happened back in the 1930’s and 40’s that the novel is set, I don’t know, but it reads very well. The story basically follows Sayuri’s struggle to accept that a geisha has to take the life and men given to her, while she has her heart set on one particular man, known as the Chairman. For a full synopsis of the book, have a read here.
If you’re interested in Japanese culture, I definitely recommend this book to you. It is easy to read – it’s as though Sayuri is having a conversation with the reader. And, in fact, that’s exactly the way it is supposed to have been written, as there is a “translator’s note” at the start that tells us that Sayuri spoke to him and her voice was recorded on a Dictaphone, rather than Sayuri writing any of the book herself.
It took me by surprise that the end of the book reminds us that this is a novel, not true memoirs, because I had completely forgotten that as I read the story!
Overall, I’m going to have this book a rating of 5 out of 5 as well – it’s very well written, and is one of those books that I will continue to read over and over. And over. I love it.