WARNING - POSSIBLE SPOILERS
Memoirs of a Geisha is a compelling tale of tradition, womanhood, war and forbidden love. The world of Geisha is becoming a forgotten tradition of style, grace and art, and Golden's novel brings these magical women back to life.
The story follows Nitta Sayuri from her childhood in the fishing village of Yoroido, through the omininous events which lead to her settling in the Geisha district of Gion. Despite moments of interjection from the narrator about her life as an elderly woman, tension and terror for young Sayuri's future are still well sustained. As her social life picks up pace, we are whisked along with her. The rivalry between the prominant Geisha's Hatsumomo and Mameha enriches the novel, propelling it forward and adding moments of heart-stopping social war.
As we follow Sayuri from about the age of 9, it gives the reader the opportunity to learn the basics of the Geisha life. It explores tradition as she does, cleverly written so as not to sound patronising. A chance encounter with the Chairman gives her hope, and through this we see her bloom. Watching Sayuri's dealings with both love and war shows how far she has come, not only as a highly succesful Geisha, but also as a compassionate and resourceful woman.
The writing style subtly changes from childlike descriptions and anologies to the ponderings of a young woman. The only problem I encountered is that the analogies become a little tedious towards the end, describing things that a layman could quite easily follow.
What I love about this novel is its unravelling plots and schemes, and the way it challenges Western views of the Geisha as a prostitute. It encourages the reader to consider their own morals and values without judging. It's also really interesting to see the war from the Japanese side, and the effects of those who never considered it would affect them. I have learned so much about this specialised way of life, teaching history through glimpses of a forgotten world.
I recommend this book to everyone, especially those who love Japanese tradition. It's subject may seem detatched to begin with, but the moral problems Sayuri faces appeal to all. It is enthralling and magical, not to mention moving.