Book Review: Memories of a Geisha


Memories of a Geisha authored by Arthur Golden

*For those who have not read the book I will not retell the story, rather just give you my opinion of it (hopefully without spoiling anything for you)

*Please leave questions for me about the book and I will answer them

Book Review

I have had this book on my shelf for a long time and am not to sure why I never picked it up to read it. However recently I received a copy for free and cracked open the first page.

The novel begins with a prologue from the author, explaining the author’s journey with writing the book, filled with historical elements that captured my interest in learning about another culture and their history.

The story begins in Japan in a small village, Yoroido, where a young girl, her older sister, elderly father and dying mother live. The first half of the story was about young Chiyo life in the small village and how her life was changing with her mother’s illness and the chance encounter of an older man who found Chiyo to be exotic with her grey eyes, even at the age of 9.

As I read about this young girl’s life, I felt I could connect with her, emphazise, shake my head at how young and naïve she is and over the injustice of her life. Sadness and anger when her hopes to be adopted by a ‘nice man’ turn into a lifetime of hardship, slavey, tricks, cons, plotting and endurng abuse with her childlike optimisim that the next day will be better.

Unfortunately, half way through the story, the young girl story got lost. It became more about tea houses, kimonos, lessons on being a geisha, rich men, plotting, scheming, and more of the same. When Chiyo had her name changed to Sayuri, the girl you felt connected with was lost as well.

For many, many pages, it was the same: school, hardship, finding a rich man,tea houses, repeat. I began to skim pages as there was not much of interest and barely anything going on in the story except for petty battles in the house and going to tea houses in one kimono or another. How many pages and chapters do you need on the same topic with slightly different men and locations?

The emotion I felt for the girl sold into hardship began to turn into a feeling of, ‘how can you be so naïve?’, ‘stand up for yourself’, ‘do something’. (granted easier for me to think this than it would have been for a young girl with no family, money or place of her own, she had little options) but with a book spending over 200 pages on Sayuri being pulled this way and that, being told what to do, you begin to lose interest. You want to cheer her on, but find it hard to as there is not much holding your interest in her character development.

Finally around page 300, Sayuri is confronted by a man she has gotten to know, who I had emphathy for, and is told straight out to stop letting other people lead her life. That she has choices and should start standing up for herself and making her own destiny.


‘I expect you to go through life with your eyes open! If you keep your destiny in mind, every moment in life becomes an opportunity for moving closer to it’ p.315

Yes! Finally. Sayuri was no longer a young girl and had gained more control over her ife, yet she was still acting and behaving as the young 9 year old in her village with a crush on a man. I was truly hoping at this point that she would be brave and something drastic would happen to improve her life.

Instead….back to tea houses, trying to secure a rich danna (older man to pay for everything), continued rivalry  in the house, to the point where you start to feel compassion for the novel’s main archenemies.

Last 100 pages touched upon the hardship of the second World War and how it forever changed the concept of Geishas and society. I became once again interested as they spoke of how each character was struggling through the war. The author was finally building some character development, helping me to somewhat reconnect with the novel.

Yet…once the war was over…back to.. you guessed it tea houses, finding a danna, kimonos, making money and serving tea. Not to spoil the ending, of who becomes her danna, I will say I was disappointed in the rather lack luster ending of a very long book. It just sort of ends. The main character does do some self-reflection towards the end which was interesting, however the end leaves the reader with more questions and hopefully a desire to go and read an actual historical novel about the life of Geishas or the war in Japan.

As some reviews point out this is a book written about a young girl by a Western man who does have historical knowledge of Japan and Geishas but it is not a Memoir as the author lead readers to believe.

Overall, I do not wish to read it again. It did gripped my interest in the beginning, I just wish it had stayed that way throughout.

Have you read story? What did you think of Hatsamomo? The dannas? The ending? I know a lot of people enjoyed the book, perhaps if I had looked at it from a fiction novel instead of a memoir it may have been more interesting. Or perhaps if the author could have written about any thing other than the same things for over 200 pages and delved more deeper into each character than I would have been more captivated.

Question: Should this book have been called Memoirs of a Geisha?

Feel free to ask questions about the book or leave your opinion the novel.

Happy Reading!


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