Tuesday, March 6, 2018

#BookReview - Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Title:  Memoirs of a Geisha
Author:  Arthur Golden
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Release Date:  November 9, 1999

About the Book:

A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel tells with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha.

Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men's solicitude and the money that goes with it. 

In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.
Buy Links: Amazon 

My Review:

After receiving this book as a gift, I let it sit on my shelf. I didn't think it would appeal to me. When I finally picked it up, I found myself enthralled in the Japanese culture and the poetic wording of a novel that will remain with me for some time to come. While beautifully written, I still found it somewhat disturbing by todays standards. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a very old culture that had been kept alive by the standards prevalent in that day and time in Japan.

While this is Historical Fiction and not true memoirs, Arthur Golden portrays the novel as an interpretation of a series of interviews with the geisha, Sayuri, in her later years. Written in a first person narrative, we are given the illusion that this is an autobiography. The history, the research into the culture, and even the day to day happenings in the life of a geisha are beautifully and sometimes heart-wrenchingly portrayed, but the actual sex scenes did not seem to be told from the mind of a woman. They don't teach that at Harvard and Columbia University. Sorry, Mr. Golden.

The story follows the life of Chiyu, a nine year old girl and the daughter of a poor fisherman. When Chiyu's mother becomes ill and it is apparent that she will not live, Chiyu and her older sister Satsu are sold into slavery. The girls are soon seperated and Satsu is sent to become a prostitute, but because of Chiyu's striking appearance due to her unusual light colored eyes, she is taken into an okiya to be trained as a geisha. Chiyu soon becomes aware how cruel people can be when she encounters Hatsumomo, whose jealousy and greed cause her undue torment. It is not until Mameha, Hatsumomo's biggest rival, takes an interest in Chiyu, that her life begins to turn. Chiyu's name is changed to Sayuri as she begins her training to become a geisha. Japanese culture was beautifully portrayed as we followed Sayuri during her early years of training and on into her adult life, spanning the years before and after World War II.

This was beautifully written, almost lyrical at times.  Well worth reading.

My Rating: 

About the Author:

Arthur Golden was born and brought up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is a 1978 graduate of Harvard College with a degree in art history, specialising in Japanese art. In 1980 he earned an MA in Japanese history from Columbia where he also learned Mandarin Chinese. In 1988 he received an MA in English from Boston. He has lived and worked in Japan, but now lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife and children.


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