Memoirs of a Geisha

ISBN: 0739326872
ISBN 13: 9780739326879
By: Arthur Golden

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About this book

In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan's most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child's unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha's elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O'Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work - suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.

Reader's Thoughts

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.

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.

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.

Meirav Rath

How honest and true a picture can an American man paint on the world of a geisha? Not much, in my opinion.True, until the second world war starts, the book's a pretty nice window into that hidden world (as much as Golden's resources allowed him to know) but beyond that this book becomes another piece of American romantic kitsch trash as everything the main character ever wanted becomes reality and she moves to the mighty and wonderful America, to the country who flattened two of her nation's cities with atomic bombs. Reading and learning a little about the Japanese on my own, I tend to think she'd have too much pride to do something like that.Written in an OK style, not a work of art that's for sure. I don't recommend this book unless sticky romance novels are your taste.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 !

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.

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.

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