Memoirs of a Geisha

ISBN: 0739326228
ISBN 13: 9780739326220
By: Arthur Golden

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About this book

Poco antes de su muerte, Sayuri, una anciana japonesa afincada en Nueva York, cuenta la historia de su vida a un joven amigo americano. El poder de seducción de la voz narrativa de esta geisha legendaria transporta al lector a un Japón de entreguerras, lleno todavía de ecos feudales, y a una de las tradiciones japonesas que más curiosidad inspiran en el mundo occidental: la de la geisha, una peculiar práctica cultural a la que están ligadas artes tales como la seducción, la danza, la pintura o la clásica ceremonia del té.

Reader's Thoughts

Madeline

A beautiful story that explores the secret world of the Japanese geisha (if you think that geisha = prostitue, you need to read this book just to learn how wrong that assumption is), told in the style of an interview with a woman named Sayuri Nitta, who used to be one of the most famous geisha in Kyoto. My favorite parts of the story were the detailed descriptions of geisha beauty rituals (they wax their hair and sleep with their necks resting on wooden blocks so they don't mess up the hairstyles) and tradtions (when a geisha leaves her okiya, or geisha house, a spark is struck against her back for good luck). The descriptions of the kimono worn by Sayuri and the other geisha in the book are also gorgeous. The only part of this book that I didn't love was Sayuri's constant adoration of a man know only as the Chairman. Sayuri meets him when she's eight, and because he's kind to her and buys her a flavored ice, she decides that she's going to become a geisha just so she can meet him again. Did I mention that the chairman was about forty at the time? I didn't have a lot of faith in the level of Sayuri's love for him, and just couldn't wrap my head around the idea of an eight-year-old girl falling in love with a man more than thirty years her senior. UPDATE: So, I wrote this review when I was in high school and didn't know much about the actual writing process of this book. Turns out Arthur Golden didn't actually do that much real research and had a bad habit of just making shit up. This book apparently pissed off a real geisha so much that she wrote her own book in response. I'm writing this update now because today in my literature class we were talking about how we all basically read only British and American books, and this one girl starts talking about how she used to only read American books and then one day read Memoirs of a Geisha and it just, like, totally opened her eyes to other cultures. And everyone is looking at her like she just said that watching The Godfather helped her understand Italian history. So basically what I'm saying is, don't come to this story looking for historical accuracy. It's still a good story, just not necessarily an accurate one. Think of it as fiction, and you'll be fine.

Alena

Golden earns points for creativity, but loses them for inaccuracy.The "memoir" of the elegant Sayuri, whose life as a high-class geisha is disrupted by the outbreak of war, is written in an intriguing and alluring monologue -- purportedly narrated by Sayuri herself to the author -- that pulls the reader in from the very beginning. Unfortunately, the real narrator, Arthur Golden, took some dramatic liberties with history and cultural practices, and the fallacious elements sprinkled throughout detract from a potentially fascinating story. (This may not present a major issue to a reader who has no prior knowledge of Japanese culture, but such a reader should also be warned NOT to take this book as a factual representation of life in Japan.)Additionally, although the narrative starts strong, it loses momentum partway through the story. By the time the inevitable tremors of World War II began to shake the cultural bedrock of Japan, I was already beginning to lose interest in the artificial suspense.Overall, the book is written fairly well, and I can see why some readers would like it... but even while I was reading, I couldn't help feeling that I should have enjoyed it more.

Hannah

This book was well written, interesting, tasteful, and informative. It seems like the author really did his research. The culture of this book is what interested me the most. The role women played and their place in society. Although this is merely "based on actual events", I kind of took a lot of it as what really went on. I've always thought of a Geisha like a prostitute, not as a companion/entertainer. I never thought about it being a career that they would have had special schools for young girls to attend. I can't imagine being born into that life where from an early age that is what you are destined to do. But culturally, it was so glamorous and it was like wanting to be famous.Coming from her background, I can see why Sayuri would aspire to be a Geisha and feel it was out of reach. She was such a diverse character for me. I loved seeing her grow up and encounter all the human emotions and endure through them. It seemed as though she was a victim of cruelty, jealousy, and misery throughout the book, but in the end beat them all. She was a good person and I respected that she didn't let how people treated her affect who she became.

Jeffrey Keeten

”Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper. “ Geisha Mineko Iwasaki basis for Chiyo/Sayori.Chiyo, with her sister Satsu, and her mother and father live in a shack by the sea on the coast of Japan. The shack leans, and has to be propped up to keep from total collapse. Her mother is sick and on the verge of death. Her father is a fisherman, uneducated, and generally befuddled by anything that doesn’t have to do with his fishing nets. When a businessman from the village comes to them with an offer to take their girls to the city it doesn’t take much to convince the father that nearly any opportunity is better than staying there in the tilted shack by the sea. He was wrong. Or was he? Without a crystal ball or access to a series of timelines showing the variations created by changing key decisions at critical junctures how can we know? Satsu, who is fifteen, is promptly placed with a brothel. Not exactly what her father had in mind. I’m sure he was told she would be trained for “domestic service”. Chiyo, who is nine, is deemed young enough to be trained to be a geisha. She is a lovely child with startling rare gray/blue eyes. Those Blue Eyes are what set her apart.The Mother of her geisha house is equally startling in appearance. ”Instead of being white and clear, the whites of her eyes had a hideous yellow cast, and made me think at once of a toilet into which someone had just urinated. They were rimmed with the raw lip of her lids, in which a cloudy moisture was pooled, and all around them the skin was sagging.”Obvious a bit of a failing liver issue going on here, but wait she is really much more mugly. ”I drew my eyes downward as far as her mouth, which still hung open. The colors of her face were all mixed up: the rims of her eyelids were red like meat, and her gums and tongue were gray. And to make things more horrible, each of her lower teeth seemed to be anchored in a little pool of blood at the gums.” Okay so Chiyo lets out a gasp. She starts out her new life in trouble. It doesn’t end there. She is quickly considered a threat to the lovely and vindictive Hatsumomo who is the only fully trained geisha working for the house. Chiyo is accused of stealing (not true). She is accused of ruining an expensive kimono with ink (true but under duress). She is caught trying to escape ( she broke her arm in the process so try and give the kid a break). Well, all of this ends up costing her two years working as a housemaid when she could have been training as a geisha. She receives an unexpected benefactress, a mortal enemy of Hatsumomo named Mameha decides to take Chiyo under her wing and insure that she has another opportunity to become a geisha. Chiyo, tired of scrubbing floors and being the do-this and do-that girl of the household realizes her best chance at some form of freedom is to elevate herself. The Movie based on this book was released in 2005 and directed by Rob Marshall.At age 15 her virginity or mizuage is put up for auction. It is hard not to think of this as a barbaric custom, but for a geisha, if a bidding war erupts, she can earn enough money to pay off all the debts that have accumulated for her training. Chiyo, now called Sayuri, is fortunate to have two prominent men wanting to harvest her flower. The winner is Dr. Crab who paid a record amount for the privilege.”Of course his name wasn’t really Dr. Crab, but if you’d seen him I’m sure the same name would have occurred to you, because he had his shoulders hunched up and his elbows sticking out so much, he couldn’t have done a better imitation of a crab if he’d made a study of it. He even led with one shoulder when he walked, just like a crab moving along sideways.”Not the vision that any girl would have for her first time, but ultimately it is a business transaction that frees Sayori from the bonds of debt. After the deed is done, the eel spit in the cave, Dr. Crab brought out a kit filled with bottles that would have made Dexter jealous. Each bottle has a blood sample, soaked in a cotton ball or a piece of towel of every geisha he has ever treated including the blood from his couplings for their virginity. He cuts a piece of blood soaked towel that was under Sayori and added it to the bottle with her name. Ewwehhh! with a head snapping *shiver*.The cultural obsession, every country seems to have one, with female virginity is simply pathological. Girls can’t help, but be fearful of the process. Not strapped to a table by a serial killer type fear, but still there has to be that underlying hum as the man prepares to enter her. I wonder if men, especially those who avidly pursue the deflowering of maidens, are getting off on that fear? I’ve made myself feel a little queasy now. Sayori is on her way to a successful career. She is in love with a man called The Chairman and wishes that he will become her danna, a patron, who can afford to keep a geisha as a mistress. There are people in the way, keeping them from being together, and so even though there were many geishas who wished for her level of success she still couldn’t help feeling sad. ”And then I became aware of all the magnificent silk wrapped about my body, and had the feeling I might drown in beauty. At that moment, beauty itself struck me as a kind of painful melancholy. “It was fascinating watching this young girl grow up in such a controlling environment; and yet, a system that can also be very deadly. One misstep, one bit of scandal, and many geishas found themselves ostracized by the community. They could very easily find themselves in a brothel. During WW2 the geisha community was disbanded, and the girls had to find work elsewhere. Sayori was fortunate. Despite all the hardships I know she was enduring, Arthur Golden chose not to dwell on them in great detail. I was surprised by this because authors usually want and need to press home those poignant moments, so that when the character emerges from the depths of despair the reader can have a heady emotional response to triumph over tragedy. I really did feel like I was sitting down for tea with Sayori, many years later, and she, as a way of entertaining me, was telling me her life story. Golden interviewed a retired geisha by the name of Mineko Iwasaki who later sued him for using too much of her life story to produce this book. She even had blue eyes. I wonder if Iwasaki was still the perfect geisha, keeping her story uplifting, and glossing over the aspects that could make her company uncomfortable. Mineko IwasakiThe book is listed in the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It was also made into a film, which I’ve been avoiding, knowing that I wanted to read the book first. I notice some reviewers take issue with Sayori. They feel she did not assert herself, and take control of her life. She does in the end, but she is patient, and waits for a moment when she can predict the outcome. I feel that she did what she needed to do to survive. Most of the time she enjoyed being a geisha. It takes a long time to learn not only the ways to entertain, but also all the rigid traditions that must be understood to be a successful geisha. As she gets older, and can clearly define the pitfalls of her actions, we see her manipulating the system in her favor.

Jen

My friend Robin sent this book to me shortly after I moved to Tokyo. It was hard to find English-language books at first, so she sent me a couple to keep me reading. I probably would not have been interested in Memoirs of a Geisha had I not just moved to Japan. But I found it to be one of the best books I've ever read.When I first started reading the book, I wanted to see what Sayuri looked like, so I did a Google search. It was then that I realized the book I was reading was not a biography, but fiction. Had me fooled! Still, it's easy to imagine that it is a true story. Even though I've only lived in Tokyo for about two months, I see how all of this story could be completely true.I love Golden's characters! Pumpkin is so funny. Some of the lines he gives her crack me up! And Sayuri, of course, is an incredible character. Through her stories I laughed and even cried a couple of times. The stories themselves were so plain, just as Japanese people truly speak. The fact that an American man wrote this (and I believe it was his first novel) still amazes me. You'd swear it was really the memoir of a geisha.Several nights in a row I stayed up reading until 5am. I just couldn't get enough of this book. I guess partly because of the story, but also in part because there's a little bit of Sayuri in each of us.

Khalid

Memoirs of a Geisha is an amazing novel that discusses the life of a Geisha, a Japanese artist-entertainer. Both its very exotic setting, with its extremely different value system, and its fascinating plot, which grabs your interest early on and keeps you waiting for more all along, contribute to making this novel a special book worthy of reading.The best quality in this novel, in my opinion, is the way the narrator (Chiyo), tells the story. Her reflections concerning much of the events in the novel are very similar to those of the reader. At least I felt I could connect with her, and approved of – even if I didn't always agree with – many of her actions. The pain she suffered is well-depicted in the novel, we almost start to feel that pain with her; we often share the same surprises with her about the different things a geisha should or should not do, and even share the pleasures of success regardless of the fact that most of us despise the geisha way of life.A slave, sold by your own family, and trained for the sole purpose of pleasuring men, whether you like it or not. Imagine living such a life; I know I cannot. Yet, at some point, you are happy that Chiyo succeeded in becoming a geisha. If that's an indication of anything, it's the skills of the author.They say a geisha is no prostitute; well, that may be true, but as the story truly shows, the main revenue for a geisha is through sex, at least when she is a successful one. To me, sex for money, no matter how much you sugar coat it, is still some form of prostitution.I don't like what she did with Nobu, but I understand her perspective. Our emotions are not necessarily affected by how other people treat us, but by how we feel about their behavior. The chairman in my opinion was much more the Chiyo type than Nobu is, and her dedication to reach him amazes me, though not the methods she used to achieve it after her desperation. The destruction of Hatsumomo was, in my opinion, the brightest point in the story. I feel that the story, and the geisha life, has changed forever after the Second World War, so Chiyo, or any other geisha at the time for that matter, could not have been more successful after the war, nor could the story be more fun.Yet, another bright point was the encounter with the Chairman. Since Pumpkin caused the Chairman to run into Chiyo and the Minister, I knew the Chairman and Chiyo are going to have a future together. In fact, when Iwamura Electric called for Chiyo to the Ichiriki Teahouse, I guessed – correctly – that Nobu won't be there, but the Chairman.The most disappointing thing in this novel, in my opinion, is the way the author talked about the US. If the novel had talked about any other place than his country, this might have been tolerable, but when an American author, writing a novel that takes place in Japan for the most part, makes the main character fall in love with the US, and talks about it like a country much better than Japan, there is something wrong. Unless, and I hope this is the case, he did this mainly because the actual geisha upon which he based his novel had described this to him. Then I might accept it.

Shayantani Das

You know, I feel bad giving the book 2 stars. I am sure the author did a very hard job researching this stuff and all and the writing sure wasn’t bad. The narrative style and the simplicity of the book were okay. But, every moment I have spent reading this book, has annoyed me. So sorry Arthur Golden, 2 stars it is. Sayuri, the titular geisha, the oh-so charming girl, the narrator, was damn irritating. There is a literal bombardment of similes. One simple statement, which can be expressed just as simply has to be explained by comparing it to the hills or the sunset or the breeze blowing by or the river flowing by (you get the point). It felt very pretentious to me. Not a river really, more like an ocean, with its waves continuously crashing on the shore, destroying the sand castles of peace of mind (oooops! I caught the Sayuri syndrome). Also, major problem, CHAIRMAN, my dearest chairman, what does Sayuri see in you? I totally don’t get it. To devote one’s life to a man like him, eeks! He has set new standards of edwardishness (check out the ending of the book, you will know what I mean). That is not the way to treat a girl, as if she was a kind of birthday present. Nobu is just behind the chairman in the irritating character list. He is the biggest hypocrite in the book actually, because he pretends to not to be a hypocrite. In fact the only honest characters in the book were mother, Hatsumomo and pumpkin. They were bitches and they knew it. I don’t want to criticize this book so much and would like to stop here, but, I wasted my money on this book and it has made me regret it, so revenge time. THE CLIMAX ABSOLUTELY, ROYALLY SUCKED. One doesn’t just suffer from all that Sayuri went through and live happily ever after. This isn’t a Disney princess tale. It’s a tale of a geisha, and as Mameha puts it, one doesn’t become a geisha for fun, they do because they have no choice. The author absolutely ruined the book with the unrealistic ending. And no, it doesn’t end here, there is more. The book totally contradicts itself, it chants through out that a geisha is an artist not a prostitute, but Sayuri’s virginity is literally auctioned of. What’s more, this book is freaking historically inaccurate. I did some research and it turns out, mizuage was supposed to be more of a sweet 16 party, a change of hairstyle thing. And the geisha who was interviewed for this book even told the author so. So the changing of fact to make the story juicy was really slimy. Still, I guess many people might like it, so I am not really going to advice people against it(so what if I said all the things above), read at your own risk, it might change your life and you may end up thinking that this is the Japanese form of Titanic(sob, awwww, sob) and chairman is the dream come true.

Marianne

I read this lovely novel on the plane home from Japan, finishing it upon my return to the US. I was surprised - given that it was written by a Western man - how accurately the Japanese culture was portrayed (at least from the limited knowledge I gleaned during my short time living there, and given that it was set in a time when Japan was, in many ways, very different from today).Perhaps it was because I'd just left this beautiful country, but I was clearly able to imagine the vivid depictions described by Chiyo/Sayuri. When I was in Kyoto, my friends and I were lucky enough to see a maiko-san walking back to her okiya (a relatively rare event these days), and I will forever associate my memory of that elegant young girl with this book.All of that said, if the author did violate a confidentiality agreement with his primary source, it is abhorrent that he did so. He allegedly also embellished the truth of certain aspects of life as a geisha, which is disappointing; and yet many authors take artistic license. Whether 100% accurate or not, the story is poetic as a work of fiction.

midnightfaerie

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden was phenomenal. One of my book clubs picked it this month and I just saw the selection and realized I owned it and it was already on my list but didn't think I'd have time to read it in the next two weeks. But just for the heck of it, I picked it up and decided to just read the first chapter to see how I liked it. It took me less than three days to finish it. I absolutely loved this book. It was well written and gave an eloquent and sometime graphic portrayal of the lifestyle of a geisha. It was fascinating to learn about the culture through the eyes of this young girl. The way Golden describes the Japanese world is easy to picture and completely draws you in. You find yourself rooting for this girl as her life hits one roadblock after another. His beautiful descriptions of the setting and clothes is enough of a reason to read this book, but it offers so much more as well. I do think this is classic material. Although published not too long ago I think it has the potential to be around for awhile, therefore falling under the longevity category. I also think it's an original concept. Many books touch upon the culture and classes of the Japanese, but I'm unaware of one that writes about the taboo intimacies of a geisha. If there are, I'd have to read them, but I think this book is original enough to be the leader of that group. I also think it has the magic factor. The descriptions of the era, the dress, and especially the differences in facial features of the characters pull you into the story effortlessly. I highly recommend it and believe it's a classic, if not now, then one in the making. As for the movie, I have mixed opinions. When I first saw it years ago before reading the book, I thought it was lovely and moving. Since I just finished the book I decided to watch it again. Once again, I feel like a movie pales in comparison to the book, lacking in definition and finesse. Yes, it's good for what it is, and the actors they choose to play the parts did exceedingly well, but I found myself dictating constantly to my husband who was watching with me, parts that were never explained. Things like why they spark a flint at a geisha's back before they leave the okiya or why the girls had they hands frozen numb while they practiced the shamisen. To me this was imperative in experiencing the richness that all the culture had to offer. But alas, it's the downfall of a movie representing a book. They can't put everything in so you just have to enjoy it for what it is. That being the case, it was an adequate representation of the book, with talented actors playing the parts well. ClassicsDefined.com

Ellie

This is a spectacular must read novel. The writing style is exceptionally beautiful and the descriptions are so vivid that you find yourself successfully transported to 1930’s Japan, and into the lives of the geishas, their traditions and culture. All the characters were beautifully crafted, and the story was captivating and well structured. I fell utterly in love with this novel and with Sayuri. This tale has drama, elegance, romance and is completely and utterly inspiring.

Mashael Alamri

حينما تجبرنا الحياة على سلوك طريق واحد وتختفي الخيارات نكون مثل الذي تربطه الأيام بخيط وتجره بإتجاه معين دون أن يكون له قرار سوى التأمل لكل ما يمر من جانبه التجربه الإنسانية تأسرني أيً كانت فالحديث عن حياة بآئسه تترك فيّ الكثير من الأثر إستوقفتني الرواية كنت أتأمل كثيراً كيف لطفله أن تنتزع من مكانها وتباع كيف لها أن تتدبر أمرها ؟ ربما يكون الفقر وخوف والدها عليها هو مادعاه للموافقه على بيعها ربما فعل ذلك من يئسه ,لكن الوحده التي إستحالت حياتها إليها قاتله , لكن شيو -شان حولت الوحده وتبعاتها لحافز للنجاح والوصول في مقايسي أنها نجحت وخرجت من حياة اللاشيء ,هذا ماخطر ببالي لحظة إنتهائي منها !

Heather

I love it when a book I’ve been super excited to read turns out to be a new favorite! That doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often as I’d like, but was definitely the case for me with Memoirs of a Geisha. This was such a beautiful story and I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. It had such a soft, gentle feeling atmosphere, and yet it was also intense, albeit a quiet intensity, if that makes sense. By the halfway point, I had the hardest time tearing myself away from it and would sneak in every spare minute I could to read more. It speaks volumes for a book if I’m able to tune out all the craziness around me (hello…3 and 9 year old boys!) and be totally immersed in it, despite all the background noise. And Memoirs succeeded in doing that! I know next to nothing about Japanese culture, so this was a really new, insightful experience for me. I found that I had some misconceptions about the role of a geisha. That whole world is quite intriguing and I was surprised to learn all that is involved in becoming one. I especially loved reading the descriptions for the exquisite kimono they wear and the process they go through to dress and do their hair and makeup. So much time and effort is poured into their appearance, and the end result is stunning! I loved so many things about this book…the way it was written, the overall feel of the story, and then of course, the story itself. It flowed along so smoothly and beautifully, and carried me right along with it. I enjoyed so much listening to Sayuri tell us her story, and going on that journey with her back through her life. I couldn’t have been happier with how her story played out in the end, and I even read the last part of it through teary eyes. This was a wonderful book, and one that I know I’ll read again someday.

Amy

I loved this book until I came to the end. And then I was ambivalent. It has now been some time since I finished it, but I seem to recall feeling as though the ending was a man's notion of how a woman would have wanted the story to end. Not that all men are incapable of writing an ending to a woman's story, but maybe just THIS man is oversimplifying things. I could be way off base (who has read this?? help me out), but after pining away for a man that she had a crush on as a girl--a man that she never REALLY knew and who never REALLY knew her, can it really be a happy ending for her after the last page of the book? On the one hand, after so much trauma, you DO just want Sayuri to be "happy" but I can't help but feel as though Nobu would have been a better path for her. Would that ending get in the way of her pursuing her own destiny?? Reading the memoir of the REAL geisha whom Golden based this book on (Mineko Iwasaki) threw many details of the story in doubt--though it is difficult to say whether Iwasaki is embarrassed by the truth, or whether Golden's version is simply wrong. Either way--fascinating topic.

Michi

Very entertaining, but kind of made me gag. Everything was written in this faux-asian "My heart ached like cherry blossom petals floating on the river..." bullshit.

Sara Nelson

fantastic and detailed.

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