Memoirs of a Geisha

ISBN: 0099771519
ISBN 13: 9780099771517
By: Arthur Golden

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About this book

This story is a rare and utterly engaging experience. It tells the extraordinary story of a geisha -summoning up a quarter century from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan's dramatic history, and opening a window into a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. A young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Her memoirs conjure up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of geisha - dancing and singing, how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the land's most powerful men.

Reader's Thoughts

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.

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.

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 !


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.


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!


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.


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.


** 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.


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.

Sara Nelson

fantastic and detailed.


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.


** 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. - The official site about the book - Recap of a lecture Arthur Golden gave - Interview with Arthur Golden about the book.


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.


oh blargh. you people.this is my re-review of memoirs. a remix review, if you will. review revitalized. memories of "memoirs". ooh that last one was kinda catchy...OKAY. on with things. reviewing and... such.i seem to find this book in the most unusual of places. before i explain aforementioned "oh, blargh. you people", you must know: the first time i discovered this book, i was in a used bookstore in Laos. some of you are well traveled, perhaps you've been. Vientiane. right next to the hungarian bakery in the center square that has a large sign on top featuring a jolly looking fat man whose smile has faded away a bit under the sun. yes? ok, mind you, in this bookstore, there weren't very many books in english that weren't written by someone named "danielle steele". which reminds me, i must look this person up. i see her name everywhere. thousands of abandoned danielle steeles, stacked up in bookstores around the world, it's simply amazing. like a parasitic algae that thrives on dusty bookshelves and healthy, decent novels, suddenly appearing when you least expect it and obviously multiplying until it chokes out good literature. it makes me feel like a gardener every time i visit such a store, plucking shakespeares and silverstiens out of the shadows of the steeles and putting them back in their rightful place in the sun....that was a good one too. i think someone should take note of this. while you're at it, take down the recipe. it's TWO parts jack to ONE part dr. pepper. you may title it: recipe to success. under notes, please help me remember, perhaps a little notation like: "found to bring out the ernest hemingway of book reviewing". ah, goodreads on a saturday night. back to the's what i wrote the last time. warning: it's kind of boring. you have permission to use the time you might have spent reading the next two paragraphs finding more dr. pepper."i read this while traveling through remote parts of southeast asia, so it should speak volumes that i was not distracted from this story in the least. i even rigged my flashlight to a seat during a midnight bus so that i could finish the part with the bidding war. i studied japan a lot in high school, but parts of this world were still knew to me, the details were so many. very good read, very culturally involved."OMG IT'S BORING ME AND I DIDN'T EVEN RE-READ IT, I JUST SKIMMED.This book was freaking awesome. Yeah, you know it was. You know why it's awesome, and you came here to sulk? Yeah, I said sulk. Stop looking at the screen all cross eyed that way. I re-read it the other day. Founda copy for fifty cents at goodwill (buried, i might add, under four multicolored danielle steeles). and after i read it, and came back to goodreads, and read other reviews, i decided it needs to be said:It's awesome because you couldn't stop thinking about it after you had read it. Yeah. A couple years after you read it, in fact. Every so often, perhaps for no reason at all, you got a glimpse of something that reminded you of the different layers of a kimono, or the pickled radish that a certain geisha liked to snack while reading her tabloids. you can't put a finger on it, but stacked in the thousands of memories that make up your soul, you count among the most satisfying the story of a geisha and a chairman. you would never, ever admit it, but you like this book because it has a happy ending. a nice ending. not perfect, like a fairy tale, but nice nonetheless. the geisha herself taught you that there are no perfect, happy endings, but that one can find happiness anyway.and you are angry that a man wrote it.oh blargh, you people. catty little comments like you are seriously pissed that golden put "memoir" in the title. like you didn't read "dear america diaries" and "american girl stories" when you were little and let your imagination pretend these girls like you were real.the reason people write stories is because they have a story to tell. and the best kind of writer is the person who has a story inside them that burns so brightly, and tugs at their soul nightly (OMG i am also rhyming. re-pour, please) that they toil over it, inject their passion and blood and sweat and tears, right into the pages.and golden has that passion. come on. the way the book reads is pure poetry. i thank my lucky stars i had an english teacher in high school who took us through 4 weeks of japanese poetry. how beautiful golden's descriptions. how perfectly crafted his comparisons. how touching and absorbing his characters. how riveting the plot. he clearly did his research, and styled the syntax and even the thought process of his characters as closest he could to the time they existed.he so obviously wanted us to love his geisha the way he did.and you criticize, like you weren't completely wound up in who would receive suyuri's virginity? like you didn't cringe when you discovered what became of pumpkin? like you didn't feel every betrayal and victory in the fantastic little world of the okiya golden created?you are simply angry she isn't real, not a flesh and blood soul who can return your adoration. oh. and--- did i mention this before? it was written by a man. a white dude. who couldn't POSSIBLY know about geisha. here's the thing, you weird feminist people who seem to be so hung up on golden "sashaying about, trying to pass off his novel as a memoir". obviously, if we were out, face to face, i would buy you one of these marvelously delicious concoctions i am sipping and we would duke it out like civilized bookworms. however, we lack a proper venue, so i've gotta say it here, without the benefit of you being slightly marinated (in order to better see my point). what would you rather have? a hundred danielle steeles, pooped out so rapidly they cannot be distinguished even by titles, haunting you at the bottom of every bargain bin in the world....?or the simply marvelously written, carefully crafted (if not, in fact, true) story of a woman (not just a geisha) who happens to be created by a man?that's what i thought. i'll drink to that.


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.

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