The Reading Momster

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha
By Arthur Golden
November 22nd 2005 (first published 1997) by Vintage
512 Pages
5 on 5!


According to Arthur Golden’s absorbing first novel, the word “geisha” does not mean “prostitute,” as Westerners ignorantly assume–it means “artisan” or “artist.” To capture the geisha experience in the art of fiction, Golden trained as long and hard as any geisha who must master the arts of music, dance, clever conversation, crafty battle with rival beauties, and cunning seduction of wealthy patrons. After earning degrees in Japanese art and history from Harvard and Columbia–and an M.A. in English–he met a man in Tokyo who was the illegitimate offspring of a renowned businessman and a geisha. This meeting inspired Golden to spend 10 years researching every detail of geisha culture, chiefly relying on the geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who spent years charming the very rich and famous.

The result is a novel with the broad social canvas (and love of coincidence) of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen’s intense attention to the nuances of erotic maneuvering. Readers experience the entire life of a geisha, from her origins as an orphaned fishing-village girl in 1929 to her triumphant auction of her mizuage (virginity) for a record price as a teenager to her reminiscent old age as the distinguished mistress of the powerful patron of her dreams. We discover that a geisha is more analogous to a Western “trophy wife” than to a prostitute–and, as in Austen, flat-out prostitution and early death is a woman’s alternative to the repressive, arcane system of courtship. In simple, elegant prose, Golden puts us right in the tearoom with the geisha; we are there as she gracefully fights for her life in a social situation where careers are made or destroyed by a witticism, a too-revealing (or not revealing enough) glimpse of flesh under the kimono, or a vicious rumor spread by a rival “as cruel as a spider.”

Golden’s web is finely woven, but his book has a serious flaw: the geisha’s true romance rings hollow–the love of her life is a symbol, not a character. Her villainous geisha nemesis is sharply drawn, but she would be more so if we got a deeper peek into the cause of her motiveless malignity–the plight all geisha share. Still, Golden has won the triple crown of fiction: he has created a plausible female protagonist in a vivid, now-vanished world, and he gloriously captures Japanese culture by expressing his thoughts in authentic Eastern metaphors.

I really can’t understand how to start my review. This book is a gorgeous example of beautiful writing with exotic details. The summary from GoodReads in itself beautifully describes this book!
Chiyo Chan is the 2nd and the more beautiful daughter of a fisherman in Yoroido, Japan. Her mother one day unexpectedly falls ill and their father has no money to look after his 2 daughters. In sadness and desperation, he sells his 2 daughters to Mr. Tanaka; who in turn sells them into 2 different levels of prostitution – Chiyo is send to be a Geisha and Satsu, her elder one is sold into a lesser prostitute house. This novella is a journey that Chiyo takes from her carefree non-exciting life of being a fisherman’s daughter to being a renowned successful Geisha.
This book depicts beautifully the day to day life of a Geisha, their traditions and their beliefs, the culture of Japan . It’s detailing is beautiful and the innocent voice of Sayuri [Chiyo Chan’s Geisha name] tugs at our heart as she struggles to follow her heart with only one goal in her heart, that was to get to her true love; and on the way she learns there is no Love in the life a Geisha..
But who knew the turn of fate.

The novella is set in the 1930’s – 1940’s and gives a peek into the lives of the people before the World War started, during the Great Depression and during the World War 2! We also see how the Geisha district of Gion is closed during World War 2 and how there lives of luxury change. It is interesting to see that in Japan, each factory that was there in those times was asked to produce fighter plane parts and such items… even if they never had ANY experience in the field. How every other housewife or tailor or even designers of exquisite Kimono’s were asked to sew parachutes! How people survived the air-raids and much more!

It also outlines how American soldiers entered in to there destroyed nation and threw candy at little kids! And when the Geisha district of Gion was reopened they pooled into enjoy themselves. Laughing and playing with Geisha’s, some without even the interpreters!

0 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

  1. I remember enjoying this one myself, and it provided a lot of history and information. It was also great to see the movie afterward. It brought all the images to life in my head.

  2. I liked this book. I read it years ago and kept thinking about it recently because I was reading The Calligrapher's Daughter which reminds me a lot of it. You'd probably like that book – it's the same time period , from another perspective (Korean) of the war.

  3. I really liked this book. It gave such a clear picture of the life of a Geisha and the changes during and after the war. It really showed how crude some of the US soldiers could be compared with the refined life of the upper-class Japanese the Geishas were usually exposed to.

  4. This book has been on my wishlist for so long but I havent picked it up! I guess i'll do now, after reading your review :)I want to watch the movie too, which do u recommend first, movie or the book?

I love to hear your thoughts!

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