Book Review: “Memoirs of a Geisha”

Rating: 5 out of 5

I’m still thinking about Hatsumomo’s breakdown in “Memoirs of a Geisha.” It’s captivating to see a character run head-first into their lowest moment. My enjoyment, however, stems from the split-second after they hit rock bottom: in that fleeting moment, will they bounce back or crack? Hatsumomo, already overwhelmed by her floundering career as a geisha and her looks fading with age and stress, is brought low and mocked in front of a party of wealthy men and other geisha. 

Among them is the young lady who, under the tutelage of her rival Mameha, usurped her position and future in their house. She also happens to be the girl she tormented and demeaned for years prior: Sayuri Nittam formerly Chiyo Sakamoto, the story’s protagonist and narrator. With the pressure of the situation mounting and influence of alcohol, Hatsumono snaps and attacks the man who was inadvertently insulting her; that man, a prominent kabuki actor, was the last man willing to defend her in Japan. 

After the incident, Hatsumomo is sacked from her house and disappears from the rest of the story. All the audience is left with is Sayuri, as the narrator, musing that she probably went ahead and drank herself to death. No closure and hardly a farewell.

“Memoirs of a Geisha” is a story of life. Characters play prominent roles, disappear without a goodbye, then are brought up by way of memories or letters. Take the “Granny” of the Nitta House. She feels like a prominent nuisance that’ll be around for the whole story, a real staple of the group dynamic. All of a sudden, a chapter starts saying she dropped dead after her heater electrocuted her, and that’s the end of it.

Yet, every character manages to enthrall and make their “mortality” seem like hardly a concern. That’s life, and a beautiful representation at that. Everyone person Sayuri interacts with shapes her in some way, either large or small. As the narrator, she relays every interaction with a nostalgic sense of reverence. It’s as if you’re in the same room as her and re-experiencing her entire life, with the benefit of hindsight and perspective brought by growing old. 

A hard won legacy, framed by trials and tribulations spanning a lifetime. “Memoirs of a Geisha” will captivate you and break your heart. When I finished the book, I was stupefied that the story was fiction; so beautifully crafted it was, I thought it had to be real. Through this novel, I’m reminded that I must be grateful for who I have in my life, lest they vanish before I finish this keystroke. This novel’s worth your time, mark my words. 

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