Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha cover
Memoirs of a Geisha cover


Title – Memoirs of a geisha

Author – Arthur Golden

Publisher – Vintage Contemporaries, Random House

Format – Paperback ISBN 0679781587

Genre – Memoir


Forewarning- the translator's note of this book will have you feeling like he is letting you in on a secret that only you should know. Like those secret agent operation jobs where you qualified and swore not to tell anyone... The kind that will have you thinking about what blood sacrifice they will ask during initiation.

Memoirs of a Geisha was first published in 1997 and the story itself was set in the 1930s. I wanted to say the year of the monkey but that would allude to my inexistent knowledge of Japanese culture.


Memoirs of a Geisha follows the story of a blue-grey eyed girl who lived in a tipsy house in the small fishing village of Yoroido, Japan. With an ailing mother and an old father, Chiyo is propelled through life by a wind. Things just happen to her and she eventually finds herself in Gion, a town in Kyoto training to become a geisha.

Chiyo does everything to find her sister Satsu who was separated from her and sent to work as a prostitute in Tatsuyo. And that’s where I find the first distinction between a geisha and a prostitute. Contrary to western misconception a geisha was much more than an entertainer. A geisha played the shamisen, the drums, she sang, she danced… modern-day Hollywood of kept women?


And this is what Chiyo must become now that her life has taken this new turn. Luckily, she gets an older sister who is willing to bet her success as a geisha on her earnings. True to her word, Mameha ensures that Chiyo resumes geisha school and succeeds at it. However, her resident sister is bent on thwarting her chances at success and her career takes a slow turn.

Until her mizuage. By pitting two wealthy men against each other in a bid for her deflowering, Mameha turns her into an overnight success. Reminds me of the model who sold her virginity to buy her mother a house. Well, maybe men in 2019 aren’t that much different from those in 1930.

But throughout her career, Chiyo renamed Sayuri after becoming a geisha has one goal in mind. She has never let go of the face that was kind to her before she became a geisha. And she is willing to crush the kindness of a dear old friend to fulfil her dreams. For once in her life, she does not let the water just flow.

Quotable quote from the book

Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however much we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like any watery ink on paper.

World War 2 Japan

World War 2 was not kind to the Japanese and though Gion did not suffer as much as the rest of Japan, Sayuri knows that she does not have forever. She must do this now if she is to ever have her heart’s desire.

However, old grudges just won’t die. In the end, she has to choose between being a daughter of one of the most successful Okiya in Gion or leave behind the geisha life she has come to love for a future with her danna.

Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a geisha is a story that should have been told. It talks of life before, during and after the world wars. It talks of the struggle to survive and those that made it alive. The kimono culture is also explained differently and I think I need to google how to tie one to understand it better.

Arthur Golden also goes into great detail about the part we humans play in the universe. For instance, the almanac and zodiac are the guiding factors of a geisha. Also explains the year of birth and what it means in your life.

Memoirs of a Geisha reminds me of All the Light We Cannot See and The Book Thief. History is rarely told by the losers and having a small town girl narrate her life in the period was a godsend. I am partial to the World Wars and that is why this book scored highly in my opinion. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars and it is a book I may read again.

If you are still looking for other reasons to buy this book, think of the rich history and vibrating culture. Think of all the remnants of a grand life once lived even here in Kenya. Memoirs of a Geisha instantly transport you to a life you are not sure existed and how to make lemonade of the lemons your life gives. It’s an interesting book that will make you curious about Japan and for all the right reasons.

Have you read Memoirs of a Geisha? Did you like it? What other books from Japan have you read? Were they worth the buy?

Tweet-worthy Quotes from the book

When a woman walks, she should give the impression of waves rippling over a sandbar.

Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however much we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like any watery ink on paper.

Megg Maina is a 20-something-year-old book blogger in Kenya at

When she is not reading books, she is usually shopping for books, relaxing with a book-turned-movie series or freelancing online. She still reads Harry Potter and is a Game of Thrones fanatic.