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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling read
This is one of the best books I have ever read in my entire life. It is tied for the best and favorite with McCrae’s explosive, funny, and shocking “A Tour of Southern Homes and Gardens.” Memoirs of A Geisha is a wonderful book that captivates the reader from page one. My only disappointment with the book is that it wasn't longer. When's the...
Published on March 11 2006 by Fanny

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3.0 out of 5 stars Inaccurate portrayal, but written to please the reader
So everyone has talked and talked the life out of this book. And I myself have read it more than once. However, there is a lot of inaccuracy and since it is my culture I may notice it more than others. I think it is perhaps worth noting that the author is a very young individual and may not have grasped the true japanese culture or moreover the even more complex and...
Published on Jan. 2 2006


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5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be fooled by the fine print, April 20 2007
By 
Amanda Richards (Georgetown, Guyana) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME)   
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Paperback)
This book has been sitting on my "to be read" shelf for a long time, mainly because the teeny tiny little print that fills the pages to within half a centimeter of the edge filled me with trepidation at the apparently insurmountable task ahead. Fortunately, I took the coward's way out and watched the movie first, and this gave me the boost I needed to get started. Watching the movie first allowed me to put faces to the names, and to witness almost firsthand the intricacies of the rituals that are so intimately described in the book.

Suffice to say that I was completely captivated from Chapter one, and was even reluctant to put it down at the end. The novel tells the story of a young Japanese girl named Chiyo who is taken from her village in the 1930s and sent to Gion, to an okiya or geisha house. Her sister Satsu is also taken, but lacking Chiyo's striking beauty, she is sent to a house of ill repute. At first Chiyo dreams of finding Satsu and running away from Gion, but later realizes that this is never going to happen.

The resident geisha at her okiya is a jealous and arrogant woman named Hatsumomo, who sabotages Chiyo's progress towards becoming a geisha herself, leaving Chiyo in the unenviable position of being a maid for the rest of her life. Fortunately for Chiyo, a chance encounter with a wealthy businessman (known as the Chairman) opens new doors for her and this brief meeting changes the course of her life forever.

Soon, Hatsumomo's rival, an extremely popular and successful geisha named Mameha decides to take Chiyo under her wing as her little sister, and after the usual haggling over fees and royalties is completed, Chiyo finally gets her chance to continue her geisha training. An intense and vicious rivalry develops between the geisha "tag teams" of Hatsumomo and her trainee Pumpkin, and Mameha and Chiyo, who then assumes the geisha name Sayuri.

With the threefold purpose of defeating Hatsumomo, winning a wager, and paying off Sayuri's debts, Mameha orchestrates a bidding war between rich men for the apparently acceptable privilege of deflowering her young apprentice, the financial results of which set a new record in geisha history at the time.

Just when things seem to be settling down nicely, two events shatter the relative calm, and Sayuri finds herself torn emotionally by the reappearance of the Chairman, and then later, mentally and physically by the outbreak of World War II. After the War, she goes back to being a geisha, but has to choose between following her heart and following what seems to be the obvious path.

The film and the novel are different in several sections, even down to the ending, but of course the book provides a lot of important background information that could not be captured in the movie version, even though I'm not sure of the historical accuracy. I would strongly recommend them BOTH to anyone who is not familiar with the amazing gilded world of Geisha.

Amanda Richards
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5.0 out of 5 stars Cultural Insights into a Unique Lifestyle, June 15 2006
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This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Paperback)
Although the book is fiction, it is so well written and researched that it feels real. The reader is introduced to a young girl aged nine who lives in a fishing village, called Yoroida, on the Sea of Japan. Her mother is ill, it turns out with cancer, and her father is a simple man, a man who works hard to make ends meet and provide a livlihood for his wife and two daughters. They live in a house that is described as "tipsy" because it sits near a cliff, where the winds blow so hard it make the house appear crooked. The story is told from the perspective of Chiyo, who became a beautiful reknowned Geisha in the city of Kyoto. Early in her training she encounters an important gentleman who gives her his handkerchief during a particularly low period in her initiation. He later plays an important role in her career and life. She remembers his kindness to her throughout her training and even after becoming a full-fledged geisha, she hopes to meet him again. She does meet him during some important functions yet, he indicates no recognition of her. Only after surviving many hardships during World War II and its aftermath, does she dare speak of the past to him and then he reveals many truths to her ... Besides being an autobiography of an important geisha, the book is about survival, the indomitable human spirit. It is about romance and the strong bonds of love which survive despite many changes ... all set within the unique culture of Japan.

Not long after her mother dies, Chiyo is visited by Mr. Tanaka, a local fish factory owner. He takes an interest in her well-being and it is to him she owes a debt for having saved her life ... He had been an orphan, who later inherited the fish factory from his adopted parents. He saw a very bleak future for Chiyo and her sister unless someone intervened. He arranged for them to travel to Kyoto and enter training as geisha. Although Chiyo is separated from her sister, she managed to visit her, despite threats of dire consequences if caught during her training. The reader learns, the life style of geisha is not just about flower-arranging, serving tea, playing musical instruments, dancing for a patron or wearing exotic silk kimono outfits. It is about meeting certain expectations to please a sponsor, called a 'danna', who pays all her life style expenses voluntarily. In fact, he is the highest bidder - all for the privilege and honor of paying her expenses, for which certain expectations are his reward. Specific aspects of the geisha lifestyle are kept secret and mysterious. There are strict behavioral and honor codes ... protocols ... expectations ... and monetary gifts.

The whole book is a fascinating reading experience which shows the rigorous training, the cultural initiation and induction of a poor fisherman' daughter into one of the most hidden and secretive lifestyles of Japan. The reader learns to appreciate the spectacular and subtle behavior which is expected of a geisha. The behavioral and honor code is very strong ... it plays a unique role in the Japanese society. What is most interesting is how the people who accept this unique cultural role deal with the social, community and national implications of this life. The reader is drawn into recognizing how the role is natural in its particular setting ... Japan. There are many different reflections of feeling and thoughts about the role embedded within the fabric of the society in which it was born. The book is an artistic masterpiece in how the geisha lifestyle in all its myriad of aspects is revealed for the modern reader to understand and explore. This is a most highly recommended book. Erika Borsos (pepper flower)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic as it is Believable, Jan. 10 2006
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Paperback)
What a beautiful first novel. Expressing such a captivating and real world such as that of the Geisha, in a made up girls life- well I dont think it could've been written much better. The lead, Sayuri (Formerly Chiyo) is a raw character with passion like any other girl. Her thoughts are poetic and her description of what she sees is intriguing as it is believable. Listening to your heart is not easy, and the book expresses this with such visual that you can feel Sayuri's pain and range of emotions well. Characters like Hatsumomo, Mameha and Pumpkin are brilliant!
The book is smooth, though starting slowly it quickly spills into a seductive wrath and you cannot help but turn page and page until your finished reading. At that point you only crave more and the heavy realization that there will be no sequel fills you with disapointment.
That is the only sadness I got from this book: that it had finshed. Thankfully, if you didn't already know - a movie has been produced even though movies cannot compare to books.
I would reccomend this book to anyone who is interested in reading, Japanese culture, or if your slightly curious. It wont disapoint, and even if it does slightly at least you'll walk away with some knowledge of the Geisha.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Inaccurate portrayal, but written to please the reader, Jan. 2 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Paperback)
So everyone has talked and talked the life out of this book. And I myself have read it more than once. However, there is a lot of inaccuracy and since it is my culture I may notice it more than others. I think it is perhaps worth noting that the author is a very young individual and may not have grasped the true japanese culture or moreover the even more complex and mysterious nature of the ancient geisha culture. How could he, when most of the Japanese population in Japan have a difficult time understanding this traditional, sacred and often misinterpreted world of geishas.
Sadly, the movie has not fared well either. With english?! dialogue and a strange, exagerated, more like a noh-type dance with added puple lighting instead of the slow, poised movements of a real geisha's dance. Although the cast are all quite talented and beautiful to watch, I wonder about the casting itself...
All in all, it was an enjoyable book...until I realized some of the inaccuracies and how such inaccuracies could be regarded as insulting to a culture. But read it for yourself, you may like it, you may not. But either way, it will open your eyes to an artform like no other!
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5.0 out of 5 stars One Excellent Novel!, July 3 2005
By 
Joy Davis (Brookfield, WI) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Hardcover)
Memoirs of a Geisha is an extraordinary and lovely novel. It tells the story of Sayuri, a geisha from Kyoto's golden age. It is written as a memoir dictated to a friend of hers who begins by telling us how he came to know this woman.
The main portion of the book begins with Sayuri's childhood, at a time when she lives not in Kyoto, but in a small fishing village called Yoroido. At the time, her name is not Sayuri, but Chiyo. As a child, her mother becomes terminally ill. When she finally succumbs, Chiyo and her older sister end up being sent off to Kyoto. In Kyoto, they are sent to separate places. Her sister is sent to a brothel. She is sent to a geisha house.
Up til this point, the book has been fairly ordinary, but at this point, it becomes extraordinary. Here, we begin to view the day to day life in the world of the Kyoto geishas. In here we see the training school, the daily life and the work that the geishas do. We also see the political intrigues and the duplicity that was inherent in the world of the Kyoto geishas. Chiyo herself is both on the receiving end and trapped in the middle of much of what happens. In her house is a very successful geisha named Hatsumomo. She sees Chiyo's beauty as a threat and works against her. Eventually, a rival of Hatsumomo's named Mameha takes Chiyo under her wing and helps her.
Chiyo begins as a maid while the "mother" of the geisha house tries out her ability to work. She is then promoted to a student and begins her training in the geisha school. In the school, we see the discipline required of the geishas as they study dance, singing, musical instruments and tea ceremonies.
Chiyo finally does become a geisha and takes on the name Sayuri. Of course, the world of the geisha is not separated from the rest of the world. When World War II comes around, life changes for the geishas. The normal things of life become scarce. After the World War, Americans come to visit. They do not know the traditions of geisha, but they become major customers to the geishas then.
The stories told here are very interesting. Author Arthur Golden paints a rich picture of an exotic age long gone, inhabited by characters who seem real. As I began to read this book, I knew little about the real world of the geisha. If this book is accurate in its portrayal of geisha's golden age, I cannot judge. However, the picture Golden paints is detailed enough to allow us to picture it well.
Furthermore, these are characters with depth who we actually care about. Before I was done, I felt Ireally knew Chiyo/Sayuri and the residents of the house where she lived: Mother, Hatsumomo, Auntie, and Pumpkin. I also grew to know the people outside the house and to care about them: Mameha, the chairman, the baron and all the others.
If you enjoy biographies, this novel will probably appeal to you as it feels like a genuine biography. There is no violence in this book, and only the most minimal sexual discussions. However, there is intrigue and betrayal and plotting and planning here to spare. I loved the exotic local and people. I highly recommend Memoirs of a Geisha the next time you need something new to read. I recommend it. Pick up a copy! Another book I need to recommend -- completely unrelated to Geisha, but very much on my mind since I purchased it "used" off Amazon is "THE LOSERS CLUB: Complete Restored Edition" by Richard Perez, an exceptional, highly entertaining little novel I can't stop thinking about.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One Excellent Novel!, June 26 2005
By 
Joy Davis (Brookfield, WI) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Hardcover)
Memoirs of a Geisha is an extraordinary and lovely novel. It tells the story of Sayuri, a geisha from Kyoto's golden age. It is written as a memoir dictated to a friend of hers who begins by telling us how he came to know this woman.
The main portion of the book begins with Sayuri's childhood, at a time when she lives not in Kyoto, but in a small fishing village called Yoroido. At the time, her name is not Sayuri, but Chiyo. As a child, her mother becomes terminally ill. When she finally succumbs, Chiyo and her older sister end up being sent off to Kyoto. In Kyoto, they are sent to separate places. Her sister is sent to a brothel. She is sent to a geisha house.
Up til this point, the book has been fairly ordinary, but at this point, it becomes extraordinary. Here, we begin to view the day to day life in the world of the Kyoto geishas. In here we see the training school, the daily life and the work that the geishas do. We also see the political intrigues and the duplicity that was inherent in the world of the Kyoto geishas. Chiyo herself is both on the receiving end and trapped in the middle of much of what happens. In her house is a very successful geisha named Hatsumomo. She sees Chiyo's beauty as a threat and works against her. Eventually, a rival of Hatsumomo's named Mameha takes Chiyo under her wing and helps her.
Chiyo begins as a maid while the "mother" of the geisha house tries out her ability to work. She is then promoted to a student and begins her training in the geisha school. In the school, we see the discipline required of the geishas as they study dance, singing, musical instruments and tea ceremonies.
Chiyo finally does become a geisha and takes on the name Sayuri. Of course, the world of the geisha is not separated from the rest of the world. When World War II comes around, life changes for the geishas. The normal things of life become scarce. After the World War, Americans come to visit. They do not know the traditions of geisha, but they become major customers to the geishas then.
The stories told here are very interesting. Author Arthur Golden paints a rich picture of an exotic age long gone, inhabited by characters who seem real. As I began to read this book, I knew little about the real world of the geisha. If this book is accurate in its portrayal of geisha's golden age, I cannot judge. However, the picture Golden paints is detailed enough to allow us to picture it well.
Furthermore, these are characters with depth who we actually care about. Before I was done, I felt Ireally knew Chiyo/Sayuri and the residents of the house where she lived: Mother, Hatsumomo, Auntie, and Pumpkin. I also grew to know the people outside the house and to care about them: Mameha, the chairman, the baron and all the others.
If you enjoy biographies, this novel will probably appeal to you as it feels like a genuine biography. There is no violence in this book, and only the most minimal sexual discussions. However, there is intrigue and betrayal and plotting and planning here to spare. I loved the exotic local and people. I highly recommend Memoirs of a Geisha the next time you need something new to read. I recommend it. Pick up a copy! Another book I need to recommend -- completely unrelated to Geisha, but very much on my mind since I purchased it "used" off Amazon is "THE LOSERS CLUB: Complete Restored Edition" by Richard Perez, an exceptional, highly entertaining little novel I can't stop thinking about.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One Excellent Novel!, June 1 2005
By 
Joy Davis (Brookfield, WI) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Hardcover)
Memoirs of a Geisha is an extraordinary and lovely novel. It tells the story of Sayuri, a geisha from Kyoto's golden age. It is written as a memoir dictated to a friend of hers who begins by telling us how he came to know this woman.
The main portion of the book begins with Sayuri's childhood, at a time when she lives not in Kyoto, but in a small fishing village called Yoroido. At the time, her name is not Sayuri, but Chiyo. As a child, her mother becomes terminally ill. When she finally succumbs, Chiyo and her older sister end up being sent off to Kyoto. In Kyoto, they are sent to separate places. Her sister is sent to a brothel. She is sent to a geisha house.
Up til this point, the book has been fairly ordinary, but at this point, it becomes extraordinary. Here, we begin to view the day to day life in the world of the Kyoto geishas. In here we see the training school, the daily life and the work that the geishas do. We also see the political intrigues and the duplicity that was inherent in the world of the Kyoto geishas. Chiyo herself is both on the receiving end and trapped in the middle of much of what happens. In her house is a very successful geisha named Hatsumomo. She sees Chiyo's beauty as a threat and works against her. Eventually, a rival of Hatsumomo's named Mameha takes Chiyo under her wing and helps her.
Chiyo begins as a maid while the "mother" of the geisha house tries out her ability to work. She is then promoted to a student and begins her training in the geisha school. In the school, we see the discipline required of the geishas as they study dance, singing, musical instruments and tea ceremonies.
Chiyo finally does become a geisha and takes on the name Sayuri. Of course, the world of the geisha is not separated from the rest of the world. When World War II comes around, life changes for the geishas. The normal things of life become scarce. After the World War, Americans come to visit. They do not know the traditions of geisha, but they become major customers to the geishas then.
The stories told here are very interesting. Author Arthur Golden paints a rich picture of an exotic age long gone, inhabited by characters who seem real. As I began to read this book, I knew little about the real world of the geisha. If this book is accurate in its portrayal of geisha's golden age, I cannot judge. However, the picture Golden paints is detailed enough to allow us to picture it well.
Furthermore, these are characters with depth who we actually care about. Before I was done, I felt Ireally knew Chiyo/Sayuri and the residents of the house where she lived: Mother, Hatsumomo, Auntie, and Pumpkin. I also grew to know the people outside the house and to care about them: Mameha, the chairman, the baron and all the others.
If you enjoy biographies, this novel will probably appeal to you as it feels like a genuine biography. There is no violence in this book, and only the most minimal sexual discussions. However, there is intrigue and betrayal and plotting and planning here to spare. I loved the exotic local and people. I highly recommend Memoirs of a Geisha the next time you need something new to read. I recommend it. Pick up a copy! Another book I need to recommend -- completely unrelated to Geisha, but very much on my mind since I purchased it "used" off Amazon is "THE LOSERS CLUB: Complete Restored Edition" by Richard Perez, an exceptional, highly entertaining little novel I can't stop thinking about.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Memorable, March 8 2005
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Paperback)
Golden's richly detailed writing style enhances the prose in 'Memoirs of a Geisha' although his liberal use of ornate metaphors can be tiring to some readers. Young Chiyo, who adopts the geisha name Sayuri, starts life as a little girl from a fishing village called Yoroido and transforms into a celebrated geisha in Gion. The adult Sayuri in the last third of the novel is almost unrecognizable from the Chiyo of the beginning, making Golden's fictional depiction of the evolution of a girl worth a read in its own right. MEMOIRS OF A GESHIA is thoroughly researched and well-conceived, but probably not true-to-life, which is acceptable given that it is a novel and not a memoir. As a novel, though, 'Memoir' could feature better development of Hatsumomo's character. Clearly, Hatsumomo is an evil, wicked fiend but what about her redeeming qualities? Is it her undeniable beauty, or the fact that at one point she said to Sayuri what is quite possibly THE meanest insult that I have ever read in a novel? I want to be able to like Hatsumomo for more than just the sole fact that she is so incredibly and entertainingly evil. The last fifty or sixty pages of the novel seem to fall into place fairly conveniently with new revelations that essentially clear up the tumultuous rubble that built up in the second half of the story. This is not to say that the ending is lazy, but it is simply not as absorbing as the beginning in certain respects. The book, which is set during the Great Depression and World War II, gets more discouraging as Sayuri grows older and more worldly. With notable skill and style--especially for a debut novelist--Golden uses Sayuri's younger sensibilities to paint the first parts of the story in a more hopeful hue than in her adult chapters. See for yourself. MEMOIRS is good as long as it is read as more of a fictional tale than as an authoritative text on geisha life.
Also recommended: THE CHILDREN'S CORNER by Jackson McCrae
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3.0 out of 5 stars fine as fiction, but don't take it as fact, June 20 2004
By 
Shannon "elflass" (Flower Mound, TX United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this book and have read it several times, as I have long been interested in the culture of geisha. The writing style of this novel is enjoyable and Golden's descriptive details (especially of elements such as clothing) weave a mental image of a world full of wealth, culture and beauty.
My only issues with this book are the elements of inaccuracy. This is not so much in the details of the geisha world, but more in character flaws. I find it hard to believe that Sayuri would continue to pine for the Chairman for so many years in the manner that she does; this clashes with the somewhat sober and self-restrained Japanese idea of "getting on with things." Perhaps in the pampered world of Gion a girl like Sayuri might have had more leisure to think such things, though in many ways the geisha world is austere and bound to the rules of their arts and the closely-bound, insular society. At any rate, it just doesn't ring true, and her continued harping on the idea gets annoying; this absense of fluidity in the floating world makes Sayuri's character seem stunted, like an instrument stuck on one tuning. The fact that the relationship turns out as it does makes it all the more unrealistic.
Also, the character of Hatsumomo, Sayuri's great rival in the Nitta household, is far too one-dimensional. It's very easy to under-develop a character in such a way and make them all evil or all good. Had her character been tempered with some other qualities this might have been avoided, but she is singularly cast as the evil harpy standing in Sayuri's way. Of course, as in any other social group, there would be rivalries and jealousies, but Hatsumomo's flat bitterness and jealousy place her too easily into the Snidely Whiplash role.
Learn more about the subject of geisha before you take this book as gospel. Liza Dalby's _Geisha_, John Gallagher's _Geisha: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance and Art_, and Kyoko Aihara's _Geisha_ are great places to start. Certainly you should enjoy this book as fiction, but do recognize it as such, and keep its flaws in mind.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Loved it as a FICTIONAL story!, May 2 2004
By 
"bookish_bear" (Canada and proud of it! :D) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Memoirs of a Geisha (Paperback)
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.
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Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Paperback - Jan. 26 1999)
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