Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kelly's Review of "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden
Published: Random House, 1997
Where I Got It: A yard sale

One word: WOW. I devour anything and everything historical fiction related, but had somehow not managed to delve into anything Asian related (maybe excepting The Joy Luck Club). Not wanting to break my personal rule of ALWAYS reading the book before watching the movie, I gave this one a try.

Memoirs of a Geisha brings to life the exotic lives of geisha living in 1930s/40s Japan. Our geisha in particular was born as Chiyo, a poor girl in a small fishing village. She, along with her sister, is taken to the city of Kyoto at the age of nine, where she trains to become a glamorous geisha. Her new life of hard work, backstabbing and betrayal is a shock to her at first, yet she grows up to become very clever and successful.

What amazed me most about this book is the fact that Arthur Golden was able to write an American novel about Japanese culture from a female perspective so well and believable. I was doubtful at first whether or not he could voice a female effectively, but boy, did he ever. His imagery is unbelievably vivid.


However to me, the most fascinating part of this book was the culture. I learned so much about the customs, clothes, fashions, and practices of geisha (and also the fact that geishas is not a word, neither is kimonos. Who knew?). The time period it is set in was also interesting; early 1940s Japan was not a pleasant place to be. Another strong point is the wide range of characters. I found myself seething at Hatsumomo, sympathizing with Pumpkin, and rolling my eyes at Mother.


Towards the end, things got pretty so-so for me. I was much more interested in Chiyo's (later named Sayuri) struggles to become a geisha, not necessarily what happened after she became so successful. I will say that I'm glad a typical Hollywood perfect ending wasn't included. If everything had wrapped up just perfect, it wouldn't have had the same feel to it.


4.5 stars. Now off to watch the movie!

13 comments :

  1. I loved this book. I thought it was way better than the movie. I loved all the little cultural details as well ... so interesting!

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  2. I agree with the first commenter: I loved the book, but the movie paled in comparison. If you want to read another Asian-themed historical fiction I'll cautiously recommend "The Red Queen" by Margaret Drabble. I say "cautiously" because the author employs the device of combining two stories into one book, and the historical element rocks while the present day element totally bites :) Don't spend money on it, but if you can borrow it from a library then it offers a fascinating/harrowing look into the life of a woman who becomes part of the royal family in Korea.

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  3. I must second the comments above me, I loved Memoirs of a Geisha. It's so beautifully written with such vivid details. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  4. This one is on my TBR shelf...I too MUST read the book before I see the movie. I'll be moving this one up thanks to your review :)

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  5. I haven't read this yet - I started it once and somehow didn't pick it up again. I don't think I timed it right. But I still have it, and will give it another go! I also have not seen the movie, because I haven't read it yet.

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  6. I just finished this book about a month ago. I loved it, too! Golden did write amazingly well, although there were a few passages where it sounds a little like an encyclopedia--but I'm glad he explained things, even if it could've flowed better, because I learned so much from it!

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  7. I am so glad you said you weren't as big a fan of the ending! I read this a few years ago and was so infuriated by the end that I chucked the book at my wall. I was mad and felt cheated. I feel like I should give it a second chance, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.

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  8. I have yet to read the book. But I watched the movie when I was in college. I hated the ending of the movie. People have been telling me for years that the book is so much better.
    I've even pulled the book off the library shelf twice only to put it back. But now I think I'm going to force myself to take it home and read it. I usually like books better than films anyway.

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  9. I remember just loving this book; I should read it again. Great review!

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  10. The Japanese language and culture are very intricate and interesting. So glad that you appreciated this novel and I hope you enjoy the movie as much as I did.

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  11. if you loved Memoirs of a Geisha then you have to read Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki that M.o.G. is loosely based on. Its more accurate on Geisha culture since its an actual memoire of sorts

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  12. It was the first time I read a book about Asia. And I liked it. I learned a lot of things about geisha, and what they really are. I didn't see the movie, but if I could I would.

    (Sorry for my English, I'm French ^^)

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  13. This book always comes to mind when I'm asked what my all-time favorite books are. I love a book that teaches me about history and cultures and customs of other countries. I agree, that was the best part of the book. Thanks for the great review! Made me want to read it again.

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