This book by Arthur Golden has been on my "To Be Read" list for a long time! I thought the narrator, Bernadette Dunne, did a beautiful job. I think I enjoyed this book much more hearing it than reading it, as I could hear the names and words spoken in the way that they were meant to be. I have always been fascinated with other cultures, so this book was a real treat.
The book is about a young girl, Sayuri, who is sold into slavery to a geisha house in Gion, Japan. As she gets older, she must learn the geisha ways and traditions of the geisha, including: the tea ceremony, how to wear the kimono, the elaborate hair and make-up, the dancing.
The writing was beautiful, and I was totally captivated by this story.
My rating: 4.5 stars!!
on July 21, 2008
I have to admit it took me a while to read this book. The beguining about her childhood is a bit long, but once you enter the real world of a geisha house... I could not put this book down. The rivalry & mean competition between the women is outstanding. The culture & customs are so beautiful. Please read this book first if you intend to see the movie & not the other way around or you will be very dissapointed.
on June 7, 2008
this book was very detailed. i read it after watching the movie, and learned more in the first few pages than i did from the entire film. i won't summarize as others have done that, suffice it to say this is a story about the life of a geisha. i thought that though the author was very descriptive, i wasn't compelled to immerse myself in the book. sometimes i felt the author's writing style to be uncomfortably detailed. i do enjoy detailed writing, but... i don't know what it was but at some points i just felt uncomfortable. maybe that was the author doing his job well as i know if i lived in japan at that time i'd be pretty uncomfortable, but people can write about uncomfortable subjects and not make it uncomfortable to the reader, so i guess i didn't enjoy his writing style. in fact if i remember correctly i put this down for a while somewhere in the middle of it and then convinced myself to finish it. of course it didn't help that i knew the basic story line, even if i didn't enjoy the writing style i'll stick it our for a good story, but that part was kind of spoiled for me.
the story itself was fascinating though. it covers a very interesting subject and is very much worth the read.
on May 2, 2004
I loved this book as a FICTIONAL story. I cannot emphasize that enough!!
If you really want to understand what being geisha is all about, I suggest reading Mineko Iwasaki's Book called "Geisha, A Life" - an autobiography of one of Japan's best geishas in history. It's an ACTUAL book from an ACTUAL real-life geisha.
This book however, was excellent, if taken as a story, and nothing more than a story. Geishas are not prostitutes [courtesans/"oirans"] bought and sold, and it isn't quite as harsh as it seems, it's just a different outlook on life. Geishas are PERFORMING artists who entertained women, men and even their whole families!!
This fairytale follows a life of a fictional character named "Sayuri" (her given geisha name). She travels through the flower and willow world, learning the geisha profession and entertaining. Lots of intricate plots, complexities and emotional twinges - perfect for a rainy day. The characters are vibrant, realistic and their personalities (either nasty or sweet) are well portrayed through Golden's superb writing. I didn't find this book difficult to read, and on the whole most of the people I recommended this book to, loved it!
It was a truly difficult book to put down. You were always led into another section, and you HAD to find out what happened there.. to put it in more solid terms, I have astigmatism which makes it hard for me to read in cars and on subways.. but I just couldn't put the book down, no matter how much of a splitting headache I got. And after I finished, I read it again.
Golden's writing is beautiful, a great story to read, the research is half done, and much of it glossed over in favour of more salacious details. I'm all for recommending this book - it is one of my favourite stories to read over and over again, but take the information provided with a grain of salt.
on February 9, 2004
I notice that many of the negative reviews center on two criticisms: One, it was written by a man, and two, that it's not "Japanese". The first criticism is simply inane. That implies any man who ever wrote a female character, or vice versa, wrote beyond their "sphere of experience" and was by definition flawed. Of course Golden has the ability to understand and get into the mind of a Geisha. The simple act of writing a female character in first person does not make this a bad book, and anyone who thinks it does is foolish.
Second, as for criticisms about the research, it is important to remember this book is a novel. Foremost it's a vehicle to convey a story while exposing the reader to a short timeframe of an incredibly complicated lifestyle; which itself is a tiny component of overall 1930's Japanese society. It is not meant to be a history book, not meant to be a dissertation on Geisha lifestyle, and it certainly isn't an attempt to emulate Geisha in Japanese literature. Again, to think this is anything other than a novel is foolish.
Having said that, this IS a very well written and engaging novel. It's a page turner. Golden has a rare gift of prose - the reader is drawn in and kept in suspense. It's not complicated or deep - there are no hidden messages or deep revelations. This does not mean, however, that it is a sophomoric effort. Rather than being one dimensional, the characters are quite multifaceted, and I can only assume some of the negative reviewers didn't quite understand that. Hatsumomo is clearly a woman on top of her game, who is scared to death of her future and will use her intelligence and amoral conscience to protect herself. Sayuri is an intelligent and resourceful woman who, rather than being a submissive doll, is determined to find her own path to stand and succeed, as did her mentor Mameha. And yes, it was a sexist, degrading world they lived in with few options. Golden says this verbatim through his characters. To reviewers calling this a work of sexism, what exactly DO you think 1930's Japan was like?
This is no a stellar work of literature. Golden never had any illusions as such. It's a simple, easy, engaging novel; a good story, with mildly complex characters in a well-researched setting.
on December 29, 2002
I had been reading nonfiction books for such a long time that I decided it was time for me to pick out a fiction novel. A few of my friends had read Memoirs of a Geisha a couple of years ago and they all enjoyed it.
I read the translator's note at the beginning and was so hooked I couldn't stop reading. I finished the 400+ page book in less than a week and everytime I had to put it down I couldn't wait to pick it back up.
As I read the book I felt like I was listening to a woman talking to me about her life. I felt as if she were really sitting in my living room and remembering her stories. The detail and comparisons are wonderful and the characters are all well-developed. I had no previous knowledge of geisha and was really enchanted by the new world I was uncovering. I felt like page by page I was learning more about this culture, time period and place than I could have discovered in a text book on Japan.
This easy to read book, though not short, is perfect for a light read. Definitely a great book to pick up if you're longing for a delightful story. After I had finished the book I caught myself sometimes imagining that I was a geisha in the Gion district, complete with my kimono and properly tied obi. Although not a most glorious life, this book shows how being a geisha became the life of these girls and women even if it wasn't their desire.
on May 6, 2002
A Story of Beauty and Charm, with Enough Power to Last Through Torment
Memoirs of a Geisha is a story written by Arthur Golden. This novel is like taking a trip back in time to another world. This book was recommended to me by one of my teachers. I really had no idea what it was about when I first held it in the palm of my hands. From the moment I began reading it, the story grabbed my attention. The book first takes place in Yoroido, a small town in Japan. Two young girls are the main characters; Chiyo-chan is the youngest sister of Satsu-san. The girl's mother is dying, and the father is having a hard time supporting the children. A very prosperous man, named Mr. Tanaka, sees that the children should not be living where they are. He then takes them away from their home, very far away, to begin their life as Geishas. The two sisters are torn apart from each other and sent to different places to be taught the ways of becoming a Geisha. Chiyo-chan is sought to be far more beautiful than her older sister Satsu-san, and is therefore being sent to a higher ranking Okiya than her sister. If they do anything wrong there they will get beat. After much time spent at Okiya, the girls change drastically. This book is worth reading because it teaches you about a completely different cultural history.
The only two things that caused my lack of interest for this book are; the in depth detailing, and the length.
on April 16, 2002
Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" is a remarkable book in many respects. Written by a young, white American male in the late Twentieth century, it brilliantly depicts the life of a geisha in Japan during the 1930s and 1940s. The novel has been appropriately described by one reviewer as an act of ventriloquism because of the author's ability to get inside the mind of the book's female protagonist and write a novel of sustained versimilitude and historical and cultural accuracy. The achievement is even more notable when you realize that "Memoirs of a Geisha" is Golden's first published novel.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" tells the story of Chiyo, the poor daughter of an elderly fisherman and his dying wife. When Chiyo is eight years old, she and her older sister, Satsu, are sold by their father, both designated to become geisha in Kyoto. While Satsu is unremarkable and she ends up as a common prostitute, Chiyo's striking eyes, diminutive beauty and resilient intelligence make her a suitable geisha in training. She soon finds herself in conflict, however, with the resident geisha in her house, Hatsumomo, a beautiful and mean-spirited woman whose antagonism runs through the novel like a thread.
Hatsumomo makes life unbearable for Chiyo and seemingly destroys her future until she is taken under the wing of Mameha, a beautiful and accomplished geisha whose motives are uncertain. Through the efforts of Mameha, Chiyo becomes a succesful and avidly sought geisha, taking the name Suriya and becoming the favorite of a war-maimed, wealthy patron named Noru. All this time, however, Suriya's romantic obsession is a business partner and deeply-indebted friend of Noru, a man simply known as the "Chairman", a man who had once been kind to the young Chiyo when he found her crying by a stream.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" is, thus, an historical romance set in Japan during the Depression and the years during and following World War II. As a romance, it is a somewhat lacking because of its fairy tale quality, its unbelievability, its departure from realism. However, while its romantic aspects fall short, it is remarkably successful in depicting the geisha culture of the period--the extensive training of the geisha, the incredible physical and mental demands of the geisha profession, the cultural milieu, trappings, beliefs, and superstitions of the geisha in day-to-day life, and the place of the geisha in Japanese society. "Memoirs of a Geisha" is also remarkable for the way its author succeeds in imagining, and expressing, the intimate life and thoughts of the young Chiyo and the mature geisha Suriya.
While "Memoirs of a Geisha" does not rise to the level of classic status and can, at times, be somewhat tedious, it is a remarkably well written and imagined first novel, a stunning and sympathetic fictional portrayal of an aspect of Japanese culture that is often misunderstood in the West.
on March 30, 2002
Mr. Golden's ability to express the main character is a very intriguing and imaginative writing style. I have to admit that I would not have read this book if I was not required to find a contemperary author and read a bood of his. I found this book in my school library, I thought that it seemed different. I was right, only after reading a short section of the book, I had been rapped up into the text. This book and the way that it is handcrafted does not seem like a ficticious novel, but I feel as if I was sitting down next to this old geisha as she weaved her past history into a story in the fabric of my mind. Mr. Golden's understanding of Japanese history is a great amount of help in this book, giving it a more dimentional character and story all together. One can truly feel and empathize with the young Chiyo-chan. I believe that this book is not buting a false light on the cultural tradition of these Japanese Geishas, but rather holds them up because of some of the adversities that they have had to but up with through out their life. I wish that my writing could be as descriptive and lush as Mr. Golden's. All I say is Bravo for capturing a dying form of life as we continue to move on through time.
on March 30, 2002
Although I have to admit that I felt the story heading was often more than a little predictable, this book has a extraordinarily well-structured storyline and the information on Japanese history & Geisha life is spectacularly enlightening! (I actually had little interest or knowledge in Japanese lifestyle before this book, but am now fairly intrigued by the country & cultural mentality.) Some invented details were even difficult to tell from fact [the existence of artist Uchida Kosaburo, is the example I know of], the story was so well interwoven!
I rate this book with four stars because I found I greatly enjoyed the comprehensable structure of the story & the very well-explained details of the culture. However, I must personally deny the final star mostly because of either one of the following two reasons: I was often disappointed in many simple/cliche descriptions in which I believe--though fine to do in everyday speech I guess (as this story was being told, I do realize)--a 5-star rated book should not have done so. AND/OR I may someday read this book again for the information, but if I should read it later in my life--As I've done with many books I've read in the past.--I don't feel I will learn anything new or perceive it any differently.
In the end: It's a rather good book to read(!), but I know I'll re-read many other books of mine before desiring to read it again.