39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Epic and Evocative,
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha Uk (Paperback)
As a twentysomething Irishman who's only ever lived in the UK, my contact with traditional Japanese culture, society and history is, as you can imagine, scant. However, Golden's classic 'Memoirs of a Geisha' is so beautifully crafted, and so powerfully descriptive, that even my bare knowlege of Japanese history is extended by having read it.
It's the fictional story, cleverly told from an autobiographical point of view, of one of Japan's most famous and enthralling Geisha, a woman of a profession commonly mistaken for prostitution (Golden draws some clever and insightful distinctions between the two, both in general and specifically). Sayuri tells her story from her humble beginnings as Chiyo, the daughter of an impoverished fisherman, through desperation, war and trial, to the final happy ending.
For a man to write so convincingly as a woman is a very rare thing - Nick Hornby's 'How to be Good' is an example of how it can go wrong - but for an American man to write so beautifully and convinvingly as a Japanese woman from a highly secretive society is an unequivocal triumph. We believe, from the first few chapters, that Sayuri is this observant, silent little thing, a lower-class child facing the arduous and enforced task of becoming a Geisha. We are there with her when she is sold into servitude, when she attempts a failed escape, when she eventually becomes a successful geisha - all thanks to Golden's rare gift for combining a strong plot with incredible descriptive prose. You can smell the incense and see the kimono as Sayuri is preparing to go to work. It's a strange, wonderful style of writing - set at a slow pace (after all, this is the story of a life from start to near-finish), Golden neatly sidesteps any sort of flagging pace by creating some hugely memorable characters - Auntie, Mameha, Mother and the destructive Hatsumomo - and giving them fully-realised personalities. The consistency with which Golden creates these women is admirable - after a while we feel we know them. Their reactions and situations seem perfectly reasonable to us, thanks to excellent character construction and atmospheric prose.
An epic, enthralling and sensitive novel, 'Memoirs of a Geisha' is a huge recommendation for anybody fond of novels, epics and truly exceptional examples of fiction.