Memoirs of a Geisha – By Arthur Golden

Fictional Memoir, Historical Fiction, Romance

You may have watched the film, as I had, but forget your judgements – the book is so much more powerful: sad, beautiful, persisting. As I sometimes feel after I’ve finished a treasured book, my life seems altered in a small way forever. This is the story of a young girl’s struggle through life, the goals that she strives for, and her unfaltering – yet unglorified – kindness to the people around her.

Memoirs of a Geisha holds the life-story of Chiyo (who later becomes Sayuri), from her birthplace in the fishing village of Yoroido to her new existence in the Geisha district of Gion. The girl, with her pale blue-grey eyes, is said to have a water-based personality, impotent as she flows towards her destiny. It is true that she holds a strong, unwavering destiny, but she is nonetheless stubborn and utterly determined, staying true to her vows and desires until she eventually achieves them. The protagonist is likeable, thoughtful, kindhearted, but some feel jealousy and resentment towards her, and impede her. When a man, the Chairman, shows her unexpected and unprescribed kindness, she vows to give her life to him in the hopes of one day winning his favour as a renowned geisha. Despite eventually becoming a distinguished geisha, however, her mission proves far more difficult than she imagined. For women, and especially geisha, do not chase after their own destinies or desires; they are expected to accept and appreciate the favour of whomever. It would be forbidden, unheard of, for Chiyo, now Sayuri, to seek out the Chairman’s favour. She continues with her life as a geisha, experiencing great hardships many turns of fate, but never forgetting her love for the Chairman.

I couldn’t stop talking about this book while I was reading it, enthralled as I was by the fascinating Japanese culture, vibrant characters and, most of all, the heart-wrenching love story. Golden writes beautifully and yet not overly elaborately. I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to people who are interested in learning about Japanese culture and modern history, or simply enjoy life-stories of interesting people.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAAA (8)

Writing: AAAAAAAA (8)

Pace: Slow

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Buy on Amazon (US)

A Modern Classic of Storytelling: The Alchemist – By Paulo Coelho

Fictional Memoir

The Alchemist follows a shepherd boy’s spiritual journey: his dreams, successes, and the obstacles that he must overcome. Santiago, the shepherd boy, has been having a recurring dream in which a girl leads him to the pyramids, telling him of his treasure there. He decides to seek out a gypsy for advice on the dream: she tells him to travel to the pyramids to find the treasure, asking for one tenth of it as payment. Early on in his journey, the boy meets an old king named Melchizedek who urges him to pursue his ‘Personal Legend’ (a common theme in the book), which is to find his treasure. Santiago travels to the pyramids in a caravan, and becomes acquainted with an Englishman who is in search of an old, renowned alchemist. On the way, the caravan stops at an oasis, where Santiago meets a beautiful woman called Fatima. He falls in love with her, and asks her to marry him; she agrees to, on the condition that he finds his treasure first. He later encounters an alchemist who teaches him the ways of the world, and guides him in finding his treasure.

This book is different from any other I have read before. Its childlike simplicity in portraying deep philosophical notions is disarming, and its narrator is convincing, personable and endearing. However, sometimes he is too naive and open-minded, and is often unnaturally matter of fact when describing events: this made him seem less relatable, although this was probably intended to give an understanding, innocent quality to Santiago. The book is purposely metaphorical, so doesn’t need to be taken literally, but instead as an allegory; in this way its implausibility may be pardoned. The novel’s concepts are profound and thought-provoking, albeit far-fetched, and its non-denominational spiritual lessons are uplifting and thought-provoking. Whilst reading this book, I felt compelled to consider things thoroughly, thinking in a more philosophical way; it’s great for self-motivation and guidance.

I would recommend this book if you enjoy a ‘deep’ book that has mythical, magical themes, yet is readable and accessible. At times, it’s very slow-paced, but this doesn’t hinder its magnetism: it’s a book that you’ll feel compelled to pick up at every opportunity.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAA


Pace: Slow

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Buy at Waterstones

Buy at Barnes & Noble (US)