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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha (original 1997; edition 2005)

by Arthur Golden

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
28,38345733 (4.01)439
Title:Memoirs of a Geisha
Authors:Arthur Golden
Info:Vintage (2005), Mass Market Paperback, 512 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)

  1. 160
    Geisha: A Life by Mineko Iwasaki (Leishai, sbuehrle)
    Leishai: Arthur Golden schrieb einen Roman über Geishas. Mineko Iwasaki war die Geiko, die er dafür interviewte. Sie stellt in ihrem Buch alles richtig, was er sich zu dramatischen Zwecken zurechtgeschnitten hat.
    sbuehrle: I would recommend reading these books back-to-back. Memoirs of a Geisha is the fictional account of Iwasaki's life, whereas Geisha: A Life is the autobiographical response.
  2. 174
    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel by Lisa See (goodiegoodie)
  3. 62
    Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (caflores)
  4. 51
    Empress Orchid by Anchee Min (krizia_lazaro)
  5. 30
    Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Beautifully written story of a geisha who fares better than Sayo Masuda.
  6. 20
    Geisha in Rivalry by Nagai Kafu (normandie_m)
    normandie_m: Set slightly earlier and in Tokyo, but also worth reading for exploring the relationship dynamics between geisha and their patrons, who come from a variety of different backgrounds. Also offers insight into the relationships/friendships between the different geisha.… (more)
  7. 20
    Plum Wine by Angela Davis-Gardner (Catt172)
  8. 31
    Geisha by Liza Dalby (SqueakyChu, MartinRohrbach, Leishai)
    Leishai: Ein gutes Buch für Europäer oder Amerikaner zum Verständnis der japanischen Geisha-Kultur.
  9. 10
    The pillow book by Sei Shonagon (brightbel)
  10. 01
    Still Life With Rice by Helie Lee (amanaceerdh)
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    Jia: A Novel of North Korea by Hyejin Kim (meggyweg)
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» See also 439 mentions

English (433)  Spanish (9)  Dutch (6)  French (2)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (453)
Showing 1-5 of 433 (next | show all)
Holy cow, I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did. It was fantastic! Here’s a bit of a summary (spoiler free):

Memoirs of a Geisha follows young Chiyo as she is sold out of her childhood home and into a life of slavery. Although she is only a child, her pretty face wins her a position as a maid in an okiya, a home in which geisha are trained and which is supported by the earnings of the geisha who live there. (Satsu, Chiyo’s less attractive sister, is sold into prostitution.) The plan is for Chiyo to become an apprentice, with the hope that eventually she will be transformed into a beautiful, artistically talented geisha herself.

After a failed escape attempt and a subsequent beating, Chiyo is rescued by two people: Mameha, the most renowned geisha in Gion, who offers to become her “big sister” and train her in all things geisha; and a chairman who offers her a kind word on the street. Chiyo—who will later be known as Sayuri—becomes fixated on becoming a successful geisha for the sole purpose of reconnecting with the Chairman.

Now, to me, a really good book is one that makes me want to learn more about some aspect of the story, and Memoirs of a Geisha is definitely one such book. I’m eager to check my library for books about Japanese culture now, and geisha culture in particular. I want to know more!

I loved reading about Sayuri’s various geisha rituals, classes and accoutrements: the bidding war for her mizuage (virginity), her shamisen (a stringed instrument) and dance classes; the different types of shoes she wears; the intricacy involved in putting on a kimono and applying makeup; the way she successfully navigates her many social appearances; the drama of finding a suitable danna (a man who supports her financially).

Memoirs of a Geisha is a fast read. Knowing from the beginning that Chiyo is to become one of Japan’s most well known geisha made me want to find out how she got to be that way. Chiyo’s life is full of dramatic ups and downs, but she always finds a way to gather her inner strength and push through. I was very pleasantly surprised by how quickly I grew to love her. ( )
  blackrabbit89 | May 6, 2016 |
Yes, I am continuing to enjoy my reading journey of fiction stories disguised as memoirs or personal history retellings. I never tire of these types of stories! [Memoirs of a Geisha] is not your typical “rags to riches” kind of story, even if the selling into slavery is a good “rags” starting point. I grate at the idea of treating human beings as “commodities” but I couldn’t help but be captivated by the details of geisha life and the depiction of Japan of the 1930’s. Giving the story extra “oomph”, Golden surrounds our protagonist with a cast of characters that is, on its whole, just the right blending of fairy tale heroes in Mameha and the Chairman and villains in Hatsumomo, that I almost chuckled a bit at Golden’s version of the proverbial ‘glass slipper’ when it made an appearance. While the story kind of fizzles out near the end for me, Golden’s portrayal of Sayuri and her struggles in the geisha world of Gion is richly rewarding glimpse into a forbidden world, even if Sayuri comes across overly naïve at times. ( )
  lkernagh | Apr 29, 2016 |
Lately, books about Japan have interested me a great deal. This was one I couldn't not read. While looking up some of the things mentioned in this book I found out that it wasn't an actual biography (I had thought as much) and that there was some controversy about the truthfulness of the things described. But for me it doesn't change how much I liked this book.
The book is told by Sayuri, a geisha who started work during the Great Depression and is now (1990s I guess) living in New York, telling her life story. Her story is tragic and filled with hardship. However, I loved the descriptions of how she felt and how she dealt with it. The descriptions of life in Japan, in Gion and outside, before and during the war are beautiful, and I couldn't put the book down. ( )
  divinenanny | Apr 18, 2016 |
Powerful story. ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
I have no idea how to begin this review, nothing I can possibly say will adequately measure how beautifully enchanting the writing was. Without looking at the context and any possible controversies surrounding how this book came to be, I thought this novel was a mesmerizing read from start to finish.

Our main character Chiyo had such a fascinating life journey, from becoming an orphan to her relative-to-the-story end in New York City, I didn’t realize but slowly I found myself disliking her choices throughout the book. After a while, her decisions made me like her less and less, especially with some choices that may have seemed manipulative and twisted had it been from a different voice. One of the first decisions she made which I instantly disliked was her ability to give in to the life of a geisha so easily as she did.

“I dont think any of us can speak frankly about pain until we are no longer enduring it.”

“If a few minutes of suffering could make me so angry, what would years of it do? Even a stone can be worn down with enough rain.”

I think one of the great aspects of this book was definitely the hardship endured during the War, and how its effects trickle down to even the smallest of villages to large towns like Gion.

While there weren’t many twists and turns in this novel, there was certainly a sense of uncertainty where our main character will end up, or what will happen to her. At most parts, the readers can always tell what is to happen but it’s like a slow train wreck where you’re helpless to do anything but to look.

Chiyo’s relationship with the Chairman, the main love interest of a kind, was slow simmering in its entirety where the ending felt slightly unrealistic. I wholeheartedly was engrossed in Chiyo’s relations with others in her okiya, especially with the elders and Hatsumomo and Pumpkin. While we as readers can see from Chiyo’s POV, as an outsider she really is no different from other geishas imo regarding how she manipulates for her desires whenever she wants.

Obviously I can’t disregard the discrepancies between the way Japan is portrayed, the fact that the author of this story is someone non-Japanese writing as a memoir, or how it was slightly inspired from a true Geisha who did not want so much involvement released publicly through this book and said author disregarded her wishes. ( )
  bubblyair | Mar 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 433 (next | show all)
Golden fills the book with vivid images and subtle descriptions of the nuances of Japanese culture, and is absolutely brilliant in his description of the customs and rituals of the geisha. Through the meticulous detail the reader can fully understand the politics, rivalries, and traditions of the Japan geisha society.
added by mikeg2 | editCNN, Ann Hastings (May 25, 1998)
Mr. Golden gives us not only a richly sympathetic portrait of a woman, but also a finely observed picture of an anomalous and largely vanished world. He has made an impressive and unusual debut.
Haarhuis's foreword and Golden's epilogue, the one appropriating the guise of a novel and the other taking it off, suggest an author who is of two minds when it comes to his work. It is not surprising, then, if his readers share this uncertainty. The decision to write an autobiographically styled novel rather than a nonfiction portrait is most obviously justified in terms of empathy, of allowing greater freedom to explore the geisha's inner life. Unfortunately, Sayuri's personality seems so familiar it is almost generic; she is not so much an individual as a faultless arrangement of feminine virtues.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Golden, Arthurprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cobb, JodiCover photographsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
de Wilde, BarbaraCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stege, GiselaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weinstein, IrisDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my wife, Trudy,
and my children, Hays and Tess
First words
One evening in the spring of 1936, when I was a boy of fourteen, my father took me to a dance performance in Kyoto.

Translator's note.
Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, 'That afternoon when I met so-and-so ... was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.'

Chapter one.
Adversity is like a strong wind. I don’t mean just that it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be. -Nitta Sayuri
We none of us find as much kindness in this world as we should. -Chairman Iwamura
A balance of good and bad can open the door to destiny.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
A seductive and evocative epic on an intimate scale, that tells the extraordinary story of a geisha girl. Summoning up more than twenty years of Japan's most dramatic history, it uncovers a hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. From a small fishing village in 1929, the tale moves to the glamorous and decadent heart of Kyoto in the 1930s, where 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; it exquisitely evokes another culture, a different time and the details of an extraordinary way of life. It conjures 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 most powerful men.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679781587, Paperback)

The first thing you notice about the audio version of Memoirs of a Geisha is that Arthur Golden's 428-page novel has been reduced to a scant two cassettes. But dismay quickly gives way to mounting pleasure as Elaina Erika Davis (Contact, As the World Turns) begins her delicate rendering of geisha culture in the years before World War II. Davis reads the abbreviated story of Sayuri with an authentic-sounding Japanese accent--one mixed with a magical combination of Asian reserve and theatrical energy. As Sayuri ages from a 9-year-old peasant girl to a popular geisha in her late 20s, Davis directs her voice gently away from curious youth to a tone that reflects Sayuri's uphill life.

From start to finish, the listener is absorbed in the elegant spirit of Davis's performance, eager to hear the next chapter of Sayuri's transformation into one of the most famous geishas of the century. How unfortunate, then, to learn that book readers not only get the basic story, but a fascinating look at the intricate rules and rituals of geisha culture. Here, for example, is one of the many revelations omitted from the cassette: "Japanese men, as a rule, feel about a woman's neck and throat the same way that men in the West might feel about a woman's legs.... In fact, a geisha leaves a tiny margin of skin bare all around the hairline, causing her makeup to look even more artificial.... When a man sits beside her, he becomes that much more aware of the bare skin beneath."

We're also denied several subplots--the aborted friendship between Sayuri and a geisha named Pumpkin, for example, or much of the story involving the man Sayuri is secretly in love with. But what remains is as precious as a traditional Japanese kimono--at once artistic, suggestive, and moving. --Ann Senechal

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:27 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Because her mother is dying and her father old, Chiyo, nine, is sold to a wealthy geisha house in Gion where she learns her trade and works it in the 1930s and 1940s.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 14 descriptions

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