Memoirs of a Geisha Book Review

Topics: Geisha, Japan, Japanese culture Pages: 6 (844 words) Published: September 15, 2014
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA
By Arthur Golden.
434 pp. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf.
September 27, 1997

In Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, the reader follows the life of Choiy, a young girl who is taken from her family at the age of 9 to the Geisha district in Gion, Japan. Because of her blue eyes Choiy is immediately sold to an okiya (Geisha house) to learn the ways of the Geishas. At first, Choiy is tempted to runaway and find her family, but soon she accepts her new life in the okiya. Over time with hard work and immense training Choiy adopts the name Sayuri and becomes one of Japan’s most famous Geishas. Unfortunately the Geisha district shut down during WWII and Sayuri continues her life as a normal Japanese woman. The book ends with Sayuri starting over her career as a Geisha and finding independence as well as success through her talents.

Overall the book was enjoyable. Everything was written very eloquently and gave a clear portrayal of how the author wanted the protagonist, Choiy, to be seen. She speaks in metaphors and long beautiful sentences, describing everything in an ethereal way. The imagery that Golden incorporates in his writing makes reading every word more and more enthralling. Sometimes the long poetic sentences dragged on a bit and consumed every ounce of description. At these points I sensed a bit of repetition in his writing style but proceeded anyway.

With the story of Choiy came a major lesson in Japanese culture. The book pays a lot of reference to the customs and traditions of the Japanese, specifically the Geishas. Having been in Japanese class the last three years of high school, it was fun being able to recognize some of the terms that were included in the book. Through every meticulous detail, Golden provides his audiences with a greater understanding of the way the women live their lives. I initially chose this book because of my fascination with Geishas, I know I made a good choice as I have taken away a lot of knowledge with this story.

Arthur Golden was born in 1956 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He attended Harvard and graduated with a degree in art history, specializing in Japanese art. He then went on to earn an MA in Japanese history at Columbia University.1 Golden clearly has a background in the Japanese culture, so I believe his descriptions of the Geisha culture is accurate. When I first learned that Golden was a white man from America I was skeptical of his knowledge of the Japanese, but after a little more research, I have determined that he is indeed qualified. Memoirs of a Geisha was such a success for Golden, that it stayed on the best seller list for two years, and went on to be made into a movie in 2005.2 The book has also sold over four million copies and has been reprinted in over thirty-two languages around the world.3

The reviews this book received are mostly positive. For example, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times states, “What is striking about the novel is Mr. Golden's creation of an utterly convincing narrator, a woman who is, at once, a traditional product of Japan's archaic gender relations and a spirited picaresque heroine, a sort of demure Moll Flanders, whose life spans the better part of a century and a world war. Part historical novel, part fairy tale and part Dickensian romance, ''Memoirs of a Geisha'' immerses the reader in an exotic world, even as it relates the story of one woman's coming of age.” 4 I had similar thoughts to these while reading the book. The way Golden portrays the narrator draws the reader in more than one would expect. Ann Hastings, a journalist for CNN comments on his race in relation to his writing, “It is amazing that Golden, an American male, has so eloquently portrayed the life of a Japanese geisha. He captures the emotions of his characters perfectly while describing Japanese life.”5

Overall, this book was a good read and something that everyone should...

Citations: Working Woman. http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/10/05/reviews/971005.05morleyt.html (accessed February 25, 2014)
Arthur Golden. http://ifogo.com/1Authors/Arthur Golden/golden.html (accessed March 5, 2014)
2. Kakutani, Michiko. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; A Woman 's Tale, Imagined by a Man." New York Times, October 7, 1997, http://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/14/books/books-of-the-times-a-woman-s-tale-imagined-by-a-man.html (accessed March 5, 2014).
"Arthur Golden." Goodreads. http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/614.Arthur_Golden (accessed April 6, 2014).
Memoirs of a Geisha. http://www.cnn.com/books/reviews/9805/25/ (accessed March 5, 2014)
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