A big question for me, before I got stuck into the book, was whether or not it was true. My confusion came from the novel opening with a "Translator’s note” which describes what it was like to get to know Sayuri, the geisha the book revolves around and therefore suggests that the story is biographical. However with a bit of research** I found out that the author interviewed a number of real geisha for background information to assist with the writing of his fictitious tale.
Mineko Iwasaki, a real geisha, one of the most successful throughout the 70’s and 80’s in fact, invited Golden to live with her for two weeks. She showed him around the area she grew up and worked in, supposedly on the condition,she alleges, that she remained anonymous when the book was released. This is due to strict and traditional behavioural codes within the geisha community that they do not discuss their clients or work.
Arthur Golden specifically names Iwasaki in his acknowledgements and cites her as his main source for the book. Mineko sued him for defamation and asked for a cut of the profit made from the novel, following the backlash she received from her people and he settled out of court, despite alleging he had emails from Iwasaki asking him to give her more publicity. Mineko Iwasaki has since written an autobiography titled “Geisha in Gion”, which is said to differ a great deal from the story I am reviewing now.
Memoirs of a Geisha tells the tale of Chiyo (I've previously mentioned the main character's name is Sayuri, that is Chiyo's geisha name) who lives in Yoroido. Her and her sister are torn away from her father and dying mother and sold off to become geisha. The reader follows Chiyo’s life as she grows up in Kyoto tackling the ongoing hardships thrown at her whilst training to become a geisha. The reader is transported to Japan and is provided with an in depth, believable idea of what life was like for geisha and their clients around the time of World War 2 and gives a bird’s eye view of the customs of the covert geisha lifestyle.
I read it incredibly quickly as I was just dying to know what happened.If I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about when I could next pick it up. I found the protagonist so likeable and was therefore completely rooting for her throughout - I was practically shouting when Sayuri made certain choices or various things happened to her and I loathed her enemy, rival geisha Hatsumomo. Despite Chiyo’s/Sayuri’s ongoing trouble, her voice is calmly gentle throughout and laced with a bit of cheeky humour which makes the main character even more endearing and charming. This novel is beautifully written and packed with detailed imagery.
I found Memoirs of a Geisha intoxicating from start to finish; it’s truly heart warming and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Now to watch the movie and get my hands on “Geisha in Gion”!
**Source 1 & Source 2
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