People were skeptical when Kathryn Stockett wrote in the voice of two black women in The Help. Arthur Golden took it to another level when he, a white, middle-aged man, narrated as an orphaned Japanese girl on her way to becoming a geisha.It worked, though. Even without knowledge of Golden's extensive experience studying Japanese culture and history, the reader is led to believe that the protagonist is telling the story herself. Memoirs of a Geisha transported me to a different era, where superficiality and beauty were more important traits for a women than practicality and intelligence.I enjoyed the writing style Golden utilized with this book, especially the analogies. Here are two I marked:"For it's one thing to find your secrets suddenly exposed, but when your own foolishness has exposed them... well, if I was prepared to curse anyone, it was myself... A shopkeeper who leaves his window open can hardly be angry at the rainstorm for ruining his wares.""Her skin was waxy-looking, and her features puffy. Or perhaps I was only seeing her that way. A tree may look as beautiful as ever; but when you notice the insects infecting it, and the tips of the branches that are brown from disease, even the trunk seems to lose some of its magnificence."A great read - I am so thankful for my friend who bought me this as a birthday present. Recommended to anyone remotely interested in Japanese culture or the life of a geisha.*cross-posted from my blog, the quiet voice.Liz Lynch
Like eating fancy dessert at a gourmet restaurant, Memoirs of a Geisha is beautiful, melts lightly off the tongue and will be forgotten shortly after it's done. The language is strikingly lovely, and Golden paints a remarkable picture of a time and place. If you're looking to learn something deep about the psychology of Japanese culture, or meet nuanced characters, then I'd steer you elsewhere. The story only skims the top of the more complicated aspects of a Japan in decline, focusing mostly on a genteel lifestyle that probably seems more appealing from the outside. There's a way in which the book, written by a man and a westerner, is slightly fetishistic, but less so than you might imagine.Another reader suggested that perhaps the superficiality of the story is intentional, and that the book, in a way, resembles a geisha. Beautiful and eager to please, yet too distant to really learn much from and ultimately little more than a beautiful, well-crafted object to be appreciated. If that's the case, Arthur Golden is remarkably clever, and I applaud him. If it's not the case, the book remains very pretty and an easy read.Zara Aimaq
I first read this book in high school, and although I remember liking it, I don't think I was paying very much attention because I seriously thought the book was just about a bunch of Japanese hookers. But I reread it a few weeks ago, and I loved the story. Memoirs is about the life of this peasanth girl, Sayuri, in pre and post-WW2 Japan who is sold into life as an apprentive Geisha, and then ultimately, an actual Geisha. The novel is full of these really great, vivid details of a variety of characters: gorgeous but evil rivals, the heinous older ladies who run the Geisha houses and practically enslave these girls, and the Geishas' patrons. Readers discover the world of the Geisha through the eyes of Sayuri, as she struggles to find her place in this society and at the same time, follow her heart(very cliche, I know, but I don't want to give away the story!). So the Geisha are women in Japan who are trained in the arts - playing music, dancing, acting, performing tea ceremonies, etc. They make their living entertaining wealthy Japanese men (business men, doctors, political figures), usually in large groups, in tea houses. In pretty rare cases, some of the most popular Geisha undergo a binding ceremony where the geisha is hooked up for life with a Dannah- a very wealthy man who supports her and takes care of her, in exchange for intimacy with her. There are some pretty disgusting scenarios in the book where they just come off like highly-paid prostitutes, but for the most part, the girls in the book are very colorful, strong-willed, and interesting. It's just a very fascinating look into old Japanese culture.Juushika
Memoirs of a Geisha is an American novel, and as such the attempt at West does East, especially on the complex and delicate subject of the geisha, is compelling, interesting, but also heavy-handed and ultimately ineffective (even more so in the case of the film). It is a wonderful introduction to geisha, Japanese culture, and the East for the uninitiated Western reader, and I can see why the book is popular, but I found it disappointing. For the reader already familiar with the culture, western influences are all too clear and the book comes off as a bit clunky and imperfect. I also had some problems with the general perception of the characters by readers versus the way the characters were actually portrayed in the book--Memoirs is far from the good-willed fairy tale that people assume it is. By all means, read it, but leave it open for critique and remember that a more authentic representation of eastern culture, especially in the details, will come from the east itself.A lot of my critique stems from the fact that this movie has attained such wide-spread fame and been made into a movie, to be sure. I feel like it is being perpetuated as something it is not. Even the introduction to the book (a faux translator's note) perpetuates the myth that Memoirs is an accurate, beautiful, in-depth reflection of the life of a geisha, when in truth it is no more that historical fiction and is written by an outsider. Golden has done his research and is well-educated on his subjects, and I have no problem with people reading from, taking interest in, and even learning from this book; I do, however, think it is important that readers don't conflate the American novel with Japanese reality. They aren't the same thing, no matter how much research Golden did, and if we take the book as an accurate representation we're actually underestimating and undervaluing geisha, Japan, and Japanese culture.Because Golden attempts to write from within the geisha culture, as a Japanese woman, he must do more than report the "facts" of that life--he must also pretend to be a part of it. Pretend he does, acting out a role as if he has studied inflection, script, and motivation. He certainly knows what makes writing "Japanese" but his attempt to mimic it is not entirely successful. The emphasis on elements, the independent sentences, the visual details are too prevalent and too obvious, as if Golden is trying to call our attention to them and thus to the Japanese style of the text. He does manage to draw attention, but to me, at least, what I came away with was the sense that Golden was an American trying really hard to sound Japanese--that is, the effect betrayed the attempt and the obvious attempt ruined the sincerity of the novel, for me. I felt like I was being smacked over the head with beauty! wood! water! kimono! haiku! and I felt insulted and disappointed.The problems that I saw in the text were certainly secondary to the purpose of the text: to entertain, to introduce Western readers to Japanese culture, and to sell books (and eventually a film). They may not be obvious to all readers and they aren't so sever that the book isn't worth reading. I just think readers need to keep in mind that what Golden writes is fiction. Historical fiction, yes, but still fiction, therefore we should look for a true representation of Japanese culture within Japanese culture itself and take Memoirs with a grain of salt.I also had problems with the rushed end of the book, the belief that Sayuri is a honest, good, modest, generous person when she really acts for herself and at harm to others throughout much of the book, the perpetuation of Hatsumomo as unjustified and cruel when she has all the reason in the world, and in general the public belief that Memoirs is some sort of fairy tale when in fact it is heavy-handed, biased, and takes a biased or unrelatistic view toward situations, characters, and love. However, all of those complains are secondary, in my view, to the major complain above, and should be come obvious to the reader.Memoirs goes quickly, is compelling, and makes a good read, and I don't want to sound too unreasonably harsh on it. However, I believe the book has a lot of faults that aren't widely acknowledged and I think we as readers need to keep them in mind. This is an imperfect Western book, and while it may be a fun or good book it is not Japanese, authentic, or entirely well done.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.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.Katie
** spoiler alert ** I've read this book 3 times now and each time I pick it up, I forget how much I disliked reading it the last time. On the surface, the book presents an interesting subject. The life of a geisha is fascinating, especially to a westerner who has little knowledge of Japanese culture. Golden does do a fine job describing the day to day rituals, life and culture of a Kyoto geisha in the 1930's. However, once you get past the exotic subject matter, the plot proves itself to be particularly trite and inane. The Chairman comforts Sayrui when she is very young and distressed; she then falls in love with him after this brief encounter and spends the next 20 years or so of her life attempting to find some way to be with him. Her devotion remains strong, despite the fact that the Chairman never shows any inclination that he cares for her at all or that he even realizes that the talented geisha Sayuri is the little girl that he once gave his handkerchief to. She is an intelligent and resourceful woman, yet she can see no other way to be happy in her life than to be the object of the Chairman's affection. Golden ties up the novel with a neat little bow. After Sayuri has betrayed Nobu - a man who has for years proven that he will respect and care for her - the Chairman confesses that he has always loved Sayuri and that he is the reason why Mameha decided to become Sayuri's older sister. He becomes Sayuri's danna and convinces her to give up the life of a geisha, isolating Sayuri from the only life and people she has ever known. The whole story feels implausible.While Golden attempts to write in a very flowery and elegant style, it comes across as forced and clunky and is ultimately distracting from the story.Denise
** spoiler alert ** Read it in four days, couldn't put it down. I had to keep remembering that it wasn't 100% true. But I think that it was as close as we could have gotten. Mineko - The geisha that Golden interviewed did a great job on educating him on the way of a Geisha according to a lecture he gave. I wasn't as shocked as everyone else seemed to be about the way things were in Japan. Women were not permitted to think or act for themselves. And just like everywhere else, there really wasn't any use for a daughter except to marry her off to a husband with money in hopes of securing future for the daughter's parents and family. There was also a strict code of honor and respect among geishas and the Japanese culture. That is what prevented Sayuri from acting out on Hatsumomo and why she couldn't reveal her feelings nor could the chairman disrespect his friend to be with Sayuri. I admired that about The Chairman and Sayuri, they did what they knew was right and did not follow their feelings. In the end, look where it got them. They were happy, growing old together, probably had a child, she lived peacefully and very well in New York taken care of until the day she died. I wonder what would have happened to Sayuri if she acted out and exchanged Hatsumomo's make-up with rat poison. More than likely, she would have been thrown out of the house and made into a prostitute until she died. In the end, Hatsumomo ended up suffering because she didn't follow the code of honor. Also, fate punished Sayuri for disobeying, when she tried to escape and fell off the roof and I'm sure that had an effect on her future decision makings.I wish that Sayuri was able to reunite with her sister but in a way I'm glad that they didn't and avoided the typical Hollywood ending. Sayuri reminded me a lot of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. She had her own way of seeing things but they were always clever and accurate. I loved the part when she says that her the back of her father's head was as old and his face but it was smooth like an egg, not deep set in wrinkles. There's living proof in every bald head of why stress and worry creates wrinkles in the face.Other characters: The Doctor - warped and twisted at least he was useful in help Mameha win the bet against Mother and secured Sayuri place in the house.The Baron - Hated that he hurt Mameha by going after Sayuri - His disrespectfulness got him in the end.The Chairman - A man that believed in honor and respect above all. And he was rewarded for it until his death.Nobu - Despite his rudeness and abruptness, he did care for Sayuri and made sure she was safe. I wish we learned what happened to him in the end but based on the pattern of the story those who lived with honor, died with honor.Mameha - Loved her, she was smart, sweet, strong - she didn't let anyone push her around and her subtleness was just as effective in getting what she wants as any man. Actually it was better because no one realized that they helped her so they never came back to be repaid.Pumpkin - Started out sweet and nice but finally acted out after years of betrayal. She was abused and used by Hatsumomo and the household, lied to about being adopted, forced to prostitution during the war. If Sayuri wasn't so wrapped up in her own issues she might have been able to see past herself and try to help Pumpkin more. Despite Pumpkin's betrayal to Sayuri, I hope she went against the pattern of the book and lived the rest of her years happily. Probably the smartest, after all, up until the end, Sayuri thought that Pumpkin made a mistake in bringing the Chairman to the theater instead of Nobu. Never thought that Pumpkin did it on purpose.http://www.randomhouse.com/vintage/re... - The official site about the bookhttp://www.theherald.org/issues/03089... - Recap of a lecture Arthur Golden gavehttp://www.cnn.com/books/dialogue/990... - Interview with Arthur Golden about the book.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.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.Jessica
I can't remember what made me pick up this book -- it must have been that edition's cover, which was highly gorgeous: bright bright white with big red geisha lips. I think part of me wanted to be above this kind of thing, but you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Memoirs of a Geisha was a fairytale in novel form, and completely absorbing even when it got slightly ridiculous. It's one of those chocolate cake kind of books, descriptively rich, demanding your full attention and almost too sweet but ultimately a great, sticky pleasure.I finished it one night in a loud, fetive metal bar, and if that doesn't recommend a story to you, I don't know what would. It was the dead of winter, Lindsey was visiting from California, and we were really going nuts out there in Brooklyn, since we hadn't seen each other in ages. Although we were both enjoying the attention, finally I had to leave Lindsey alone at a table with about six enthusiastic long-haired, thickly-tattooed sweethearts while I crept off to a dim corner and finished the last few chapters of this book. Seriously, Lindsey took a picture of me crouched at a table by myself, where every once in awhile someone in a tight vinyl bondage outfit or gory tee shirt would come up and demand to know what I was reading. Finally I wrapped it up and returned to the socializing, and the rest of the night? Well, that's a story of its own, and not a chocolate cake one.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 !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.Arah-Lynda
A beautiful, poingnant story that is so incredibly, lyrically captivating you are seduced from the very first word. An absolute work of art, each page overflows with beautiful, sensual, evocative images. Such is the skill and authority of Golden's writing, I feel as though I have spent hours, being entertained by the most gifted of all Geisha. Utterly Satisfying. I want to read it again for the very first time!T.J.
Damn if you aren't one of the most problematic things I've ever read, Memoirs of a Geisha.Like much of non-Asian America, I was swept up in the delight of reading this book in 2000. I was fifteen and precocious, and the narrative was arresting. I couldn't put the book down. I wrote this in 2000:"Golden has hit pay dirt with this masterpiece. An insightful, curious, and caring look into the mysterious world of geisha, Arthur Golden peels away the ignorance and labeling that westerners have covered the secretive Japanese profession. Although it sinks at times into a near melodramatic prose, the book's protagonist is interesting, insightful, and enjoyable. Her witty anecdotes and thoughtful mannerisms in speaking make Memoirs of a Geisha a delightful and unstoppable read."Then I got older, went to college and graduate school, and developed a critical, thinking eye.And I'm mad at myself.insightful? Really? God, I was naive. This novel, while entertaining is so problematic I rarely have time to descend into my criticism. It continues the Orientalism that Edward Said loathed so very much; rather than "skillfully entering" the world of a Japanese woman, it apes her identity, and ultimately deprives her of a voice, creating a sort of Orientalist imagination for us to enjoy without ever really seeing her. The book is still engaging as a narrative, but the sappy ending, the frankly sexist portrayals at some points, and Sayuri's outright inability to identify outside of her Chairman is rather frightening. It serves to objectify fetishism at its worst. Yet I can only give you three stars, because I'm still partly under your spell, Golden. Damn.