Review: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

929Holy 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.

Rating: 10/10

Genre: Fiction

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4 thoughts on “Review: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

  1. I agree that this book was very well written, but it is in no way an accurate portrayal of the geisha/maiko(Apprentice geisha) culture and lifestyle both for modern geisha and for geisha of that time period. I do encourage you to research the culture as it is extremely beautiful (Personally, I’ve been researching it for about 9 months now, I’ve gotten to the point where I can recognize what stage the girls are at in their training and can recognize a few Geisha and Maiko by name just by looking at them) If you want, I would be happy to tell you some of the things I’ve learned through my research and answer any questions you might have about the culture. Just make sure that you recognize that the book is just fiction and much of the details are extremely inaccurate,make sure you don’t have expectations from the book that you think are real, because chances are, they’re wrong. ^^

    1. Thank you very much for your comment! I do know that the book is fiction, and that is partially why I wanted to look more deeply into geisha culture. Your insight makes me even more interested in learning about it. I’m glad to know that the book is not an accurate portrayal; I will definitely do some research now. I will let you know if I have any questions! 🙂

      1. I’m very glad you are looking more into it. As an example of things they got wrong, you know how they basically treated Chiyo as a slave and barely fed her or the Pumpkin girl anything? The girls were actually very well treated and fed, of course they did have to do chores and help their geisha sisters and had to listen to what her okaa-san said, but they weren’t abused, and were fed well alongside her geisha sisters, if the family that put her into the geisha house wanted to take their daughters back, they very well could at any moment if they thought they were being mistreated. That’s just a small example but there were many throughout the entirety of the book and especially the movie.

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