Juushika’s review of Memoirs of a Geisha > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Alisa (new)

Alisa Thank you for taking time to write the comments I could intuitively feel but do not have the background in Japanese culture to voice. I also agree with your comments about characters and the fact that even though the book is entertaining it is fiction.

message 2: by lowdown (new)

lowdown I really enjoyed your commentary on the book. I think I was one of the people you speak of who made the mistake of taking fiction for fact with this book, that is, in the first 200 pages. Once I read the author bio and realized that it was a white guy from Massachusetts writing as if he was a geisha in WWII Japan, I was suspicious from the next word on. I really don't know why he even bothered to try and write the story in the first person.

I have notoriously heard that the movie is a pile of crap, so I have chosen not to watch it.

With that said, it was a very entertaining book until around page 400 and then again for the last 2 pages. Somewhere in between there he gets very caught up with her love affair and he really lost it for me. However, the last two pages made me weep. I thought they were heart felt and beautiful.

If you have time, can you please recommend some books that you feel accurately represent the culture?
I would also be interested to hear read your thoughts/reviews on any of Murakami's books.
Thanks again

message 3: by John (new)

John Conrad Excellent review. It's nice to hear an insiders perspective and I especially found the word "clunky" to be apt for Golden's awkward tale.

message 4: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Duh. Of course it's fiction. If I wanted a history lesson or a biography from an actual geisha, I would have picked something up from the non-fiction section of the library.

Anyone who reads this book and takes it for a historically accurate representation has bigger problems than just misinterpreting the intention of this book. The purpose of a novel is to enlighten the human condition, not teach history.

I feel the main point of this novel was the sweeping and bittersweet love story between Sayuri and the Chairman, the tragic notion that life is full of compromise, but that some amount of good can be hoped for in spite of all the disappointments.

And of course the author is entitled to write the story from whatever viewpoint he or she wishes. To vilify Golden for having the audacity to write from the point of view of an imagined Japanese geisha in a time-gone-by is an insult to every author who has ventured beyond the limits of their own experience and explored a view on life from someone else's perspective. (Hello, Harriet Beecher Stowe??) And naturally an author is almost duty-bound to seek a perspective other than his or her own - otherwise, we'd just be reading the person's memoirs.

It's FICTION, people. ENJOY IT.

message 5: by Melissa (new)

Melissa I like the detailed background about the flaws in what is posed as historical accuracy. I have wondered about many of these elements for some time. I will however take the story at face value because I did like the story but move on from there.

message 6: by Ivy (new)

Ivy Like Melissa said...it is fiction...and I enjoyed it as such, however I would be interested in some historically accurate representations of the japanese/geisha culture and would appreciate it Juushika if you could suggest some.

message 7: by De Ana (new)

De Ana I really like your review of this book, it explains all the problems I had with the book but didn't know how to voice. Thank you!

message 8: by Kellyna (new)

Kellyna You have a great review, and point of view on the book I never even thought of. But then again, the book IS fiction.

message 9: by Maia (new)

Maia what a great review! Thank you! I'm one of those readers who'd put off reading this book for ages, even as most of my friends and acquaintances fell to reading it--essentially, I put it off because when i read fiction, I'm looking for 'truth': not specifically historical or non-historical truth but, rather, the truth of authenticity in the voice. And, to be honest, knowing from the first that this was a white American guy with a long list of degrees from Mass (a white American guy who simply studied Japanese history and spend a short while in Japan--would have been different if he'd grown up there, perhaps) I was suspicious and reluctant. In the end, I found myself reading it on a long holiday after I'd exhausted all my other books and someone left this one behind. And I won't lie: it was a compelling read in many ways. I did enjoy it. But I didn't buy it. So thanks for your inside note, it places it all into context.

message 10: by Angrybeaver (new)

Angrybeaver "Comfort Women" by Nora Okja Keller provides an excellent contrast to Arthur Golden's book "Memoirs of a Geisha." However, I warn you in advance that it is gut wrenching in its' sincerity. While Golden's work was superficial and deliberately artistic Keller's book chases thru your imagination like a howling lost soul. It is described as a book about mothers and daughters but it is as much about a relationship between the self one chooses to reveal and the self one chooses to hold sacrosanct. It's easy to fly thru the book at the speed of light but I don't recommend doing it that way...read it as slowly as you can and refuse to miss details that are hauntingly written and provoking. A warning though, this is an emotionally intense book versus a vacation read.

message 11: by Connor (new)

Connor Sherman I would like to know a lot more about Japanese culture, but I have no idea where to start. I started with this, but after reading your review it made me feel ignorant for thinking it was actually true. If anyone can recommend me some books about Japanese culture, Japan, or even geisha, I would really appreciate it!

message 12: by Anna (new)

Anna Thanks for the review! It was very informative and got me wondering if you could give some examples of inaccuracies in the book when Golden was trying to depict the Japanese geisha life.

message 13: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Parton I don’t think that Golden was necessarily trying to be tricky by writing the fictional translator’s note; Nathaniel Hawthorne did the same thing in The Scarlet Letter. It’s a literary device that isn’t used often, but is done so to create a certain artistic effect. Whether that device is successful or not is up for debate. Also, I think it’s totally feasible for a person of one gender to write from the perspective of another gender and be successful at it. Flannery O’Connor wrote about men authentically; William Faulkner occasionally wrote from his female characters’ perspectives and succeeded. It’s just that such a thing requires a greater removal of the self—you have to be able to see completely through that character’s eyes, which includes not just what they see and feel and think, but how they see and feel and think it. Whether Golden succeeded in doing so is, again, what is up for debate; I’d say he didn’t completely. And, as far as cultural authenticity goes, being an "outsider" who has read novels by great Japanese authors, it's easy for me to see how Western Memoirs of a Geisha is. There’s a marked tonal difference, for one; it’s much warmer and more effusive than a Japanese novel would be. The pacing is different, too; more direct, I guess, or with a more clearly marked plot arc. However, Golden wasn't writing for a Japanese audience; he was writing for a general American audience that has entirely different expectations. I think it's important to keep that in mind. While I wouldn’t put this book up on a pedestal and call it a contemporary classic, I will say that it’s solid popular fiction. If anyone is interested in reading Japanese novels, I recommend Snow Country by Kawabata Yasunari or Masks by Enchi Fumiko (my favorite novel).

message 14: by Reid (new)

Reid Totally agree about all the nature nature nature metaphors, they became incessant and insulting, as you say. Ruined a good story.

message 15: by Anna (new)

Anna Heidi wrote: "I don’t think that Golden was necessarily trying to be tricky by writing the fictional translator’s note; Nathaniel Hawthorne did the same thing in The Scarlet Letter. It’s a literary device that i..."

I completely agree with the pacing difference. I hadn't even realized it until you mentioned it, actually...

message 16: by Gina (new)

Gina Mellon Geisha, a Life, is allegedly the premise for Sayuri's character, and she writes this book, to clear up any falacies he may have implied w Memoirs. Please forgive my brief review, but after reading both I can still say that Memoirs, did exactly what a good "fiction" book does for me. Leaves a lasting impression,that I for one won't soon forget.

message 17: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Find Women of Comfort

message 18: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Scheidt I don't know what you're talking about but Hatsumomo DID NOT have any reason to treat Chiyo so unkindly. Only like once does she give her a reason to hate her and that's already after Chiyo's got in trouble for the lies Hatsumomo told and she was already treating her like a dog. After someone did all that stuff to me i'd want to be mean to her too.

message 19: by Jeff (new)

Jeff I think it's unfortunate that you would review a tasteful book based on a heavy-handed movie interpretation of that book.

message 20: by Monica (new)

Monica "It is a wonderful introduction to geisha, Japanese culture, and the East for the uninitiated Western reader" Here I am! The uninitiated Western reader. Can you suggest me another book I should read that faces Japanese culture's aspects in a better way?

message 21: by Celestina (new)

Celestina A very interesting view of the book that I have not even considered.This is one of my favourite books of all time but I've never really thought deeply about the characters. A nice review.

message 22: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I thought Arthur Golden did a fantastic job with this tale. I'm not interested in whether it is historically or culturally accurate. I don't think that is what people are looking for when they pick up a 'fiction' book. I got what I was looking for with this book; an in-depth and deeply moving story.

message 23: by Juushika (new)

Juushika The answer to "what book should I read instead?" is apparently Geisha, a Life (among other books mentioned in comments above, obviously); Golden interviewed and then misrepresented Mineko Iwasaki in creation of Memoirs, and she wrote her own autobiography in response. I've not yet read it but it's well vouched for, and its existence also clearly answers the question of whether or not Golden's novel is appropriative and problematic (it is).

I wrote this review years ago, pretending to know a lot more than I did (in its own way problematic!), and so can no longer engage in responses to my criticism, but I still stand by the view that this book is unforgivably flawed--the sort of flaws that can't be dismissed by the eternal cry that it's "just" fiction.

message 24: by Marius (new)

Marius Hancu While reading Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, you may want to see my questions related to it as answered in the alt.usage.english (AUE) Usenet newsgroup. My thanks to the participating AUE members. The focus of my questions was the language: rare words, funny or original expressions, special or strange constructs — as I saw them, from within my own idiosyncrasies.

message 25: by india (new)

india Good book

message 26: by india (new)

india The first place in my heart disease and stroke of genius to figure out how many people are going to the boy was a good day at work and the same time I see you soon to be released in the same time period of time for me to get to see you soon then I have to be honest I'm not a bad thing about it but it's still available in my head hurts like that I am a bit late to India to be in town of your friends are the only reason you soon then we will have a great hi how are you guys have fun with that one of the same time I see you soon and the boy was I wrong but it doesn't matter if you'd like me a pic of your own home and then I have no

message 27: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Just read this guy's bio, he's from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As someone who's from East Asia but now lives in Tennessee, that just strikes me as hilarious.

message 28: by Soplada (new)

Soplada yes, actually i started it but felt the unnatural voice in it so i decided to close it...

message 29: by Pat (new)

Pat H Don't read Jules Verne, then.... I heard he's never been under the sea, around the world, or in the center of the earth...!! You should probably warn the readers so they don't enjoy his books too much!!!

message 30: by Jacob (new)

Jacob Young I felt that this book was terrific and very enlightening, particularly for those who possess little to no knowledge of Japanese history and culture. In fact, Golden has a Master's degree in Japanese history.

message 31: by Isabel (new)

Isabel I think the same sometimes about some writers creating plots about another culture. The book is good but could be much better. I was reading great novel about unexpected tasmanian tiger escaping in lake district moors in 1810. I believed sometimes create a simple but strong plot like I found inside Mauler´s story written for a great local writer is much well written than create a fantastic drama about a geisha in Japan. Is just my point of view, off course. Writers telling a great powrful stories about simple events in their own land sometimes turn a classic novel as Shawn Williamson did in his first novel.

message 32: by David (new)

David Your review can be summed up in one sentence: "I am very smart."

message 33: by Laura (new)

Laura A biography is non-fiction. This book is historical fiction. Two different things. People who want hard facts, they read non-fiction.
Don't worry, the East has biased books about the West as well. The same way W.Europe has on E.Europe. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with an American studying Japanese culture and writing a fiction novel loosely based on it.
What I'm trying to say is this: if you want historical facts and a deep explanation of Japanese culture, don't read this book; or any other fictional books - no historical fiction novel is 100% accurate. So, read non-fiction about Japan - but keep in mind that autobiographies are biased as well.

Don't get me wrong, I also read fiction novel set in or some part of it based on my country, and it was terrible - the author didn't do any kind of research (and tabloids don't count).
My point is, fiction =/= facts.

message 34: by T Huong (new)

T Huong Although I appreciate the extensive review, I can’t say I agree with your points. As a modern reader I am sometimes disconcerted with the motivations of people from another period in history. However, to focus simply on the knowledge that the book was written by a 'Western man' ann 'outsider’ and therefore lacks in authenticity seems ridiculous to me. As an 'Easterner' myself, I find that even we can be sometimes insanely biased towards our own culture, so there is no true authentic representation.

message 35: by Autumn (new)

Autumn What would you recommend instead?

message 36: by Cris N. (last edited Apr 02, 2016 08:40PM) (new)

Cris N. It's interesting to find a review from someone who seems to had had some of the same feelings I did about Golden's writing. Not that a Westerner couldn't write something that really seemed like it was written by a Japanese person, just that it takes a deep grasp of the cultural spirit and Golden didn't quite do it right (even if he did grasp it to some extent). Though I wonder if that's because he put too much effort to imitate or if if it's just the way he writes by nature. However, one big thing I'll disagree with is the issue of Hatsumomo; I thought she was a very horrible person who did mostly unjustifiable things.

I noticed in the comments that people were asking for alternatives on geisha. I think that's kind of obvious if you do a bit of web surfing; Kafu Nagai, Yasunari Kawabata, not to mention Mineko Iwasaki's own autobiography. Probably some other Japanese classic authors like Yukio Mishima or Natsume Soseki have geisha as characters in some of their works as well, although they won't be a central focus.

message 37: by Saonli (new)

Saonli Bedi So..the biggest problem I had with the book was to accept how willfully an individual's rights were violated, and i couldn't see any beauty in the language or characters beyond a point. It has left me seething against men who subjected women to a lesser life, but more against women who never questioned it. It may have been a story worth telling, as a wake-up call to count our blessings and to guard and fight for our basic rights. A Geishas life is shallow, fickle and unsavoury. I don't see any romanticism in it. There is certainly more to life than to please a man. If this was the culture that needed to be introduced to the world, I think the author may not have bothered. It is depressing, unjust and superficial.

message 38: by Zo (new)

Zo Wow, I didn't realize the translater's note was fake. Guess I need to take everything I read in this book with more than just a grain of salt... -.-"

message 39: by Mari (new)

Mari Seriously, how long can it take to learn to play an instrument with two strings? And we are supposed to believe that they auction of virginity, but that they are NOT whores? Yeaaah. Riiiiiight.

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