Sophia.'s Reviews > Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
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So.. Memoirs of a Geisha. I'd been wanting to read that one for a very long time. I had heard so many good things about it. It's supposed to be awesome, and deep, and beautiful, right?
Wrong. It's not.

The writing was what bothered me the most. It's pretentious and superficial, and sloooooww and it goes on and on and on and on and on and still, very little happens. In some sort of weird combination, the writing is both superficial and cliché. It feels like Golden thought it would be a good idea to emphasize all the Japan-and-nature clichés to the point of ridiculousness : I still can't believe how many times he compares something to the nature. Ironically, it doesn't feel natural at all. It feels forced and weird and and it's very annoying, as it slows down the pacing (which is already very slow) and frequently interrupts the narrator's flow of thoughts.

Examples? Yes, yes. Because I was so sick and tired of reading for the 40th time how something is LIKE a bird or a snake or whatever, I made a list. Enjoy, people.

This is how Sayuri narrates the story. Please notice and enjoy how natural this way of thinking sounds :

"I felt as a dam must feel when it's holding back an entire river."

"I felt as sore as a rock must feel when the waterfall has pounded on it all day long."

"My poor scalp felt the way clay must feel after the potter has scored it with a sharp stick."


And it goes on :

"Like water bugs kicking along the surface."

"Like the crisp skin of a grilled fish."

"Like a scrap of paper in the wind."

"Like ruts in the bark of a tree."


And on :
"Like a pig trying to survive in a slaughterhouse."

"Like a stray cat on the street without a master to feed it."

"My mind on the eve of my debut was like a garden in which the flowers have only begun to poke their faces up through the soil."

"It was like when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly."

"Out of my element as a pigeon in a nest of falcons."

"Felt as a simple smelt must feel when a silver salmon glides by."


Still not enough? I was hoping you'd say that. Here you go!(view spoiler)

So yeah. Just because of that, it can't get more than 2 stars for me. It just can't. It's awful to read.

And the characters. *SIGH* What can I say about them? Hatsumomo was just a big cliché, and so was Pumpkin, and so was The Chairman.

They didn't feel real. None of them did. Sayuri on top. So I'm supposed to feel something for her, right? Relate to her somehow. That was impossible. I don't know why, but somehow I was able to relate to Chiyo - but not to Sayuri. Even though they're the same person, I couldn't bring myself to care for Sayuri. As soon as she "grows up" (even though she keeps telling her story with the skills of a freakin' 4 year old) so around the time when she becomes a geisha, that is, she becomes insufferable.

And she has this sort of weird fascination for adult men, first M. Tanaka and after The Chairman, and it's just so annoying. Why does she like them? Why?

And, yeah, she was also such a victim. She never made anything to change her condition, she was just this kind of submissive woman who, well, blinks and, I dunno, bows. I know it's the way she's supposed to behave, but still, it's infuriatingly boring to read about such a character. The only thing she ever does for herself is (view spoiler) but even that is done in the purpose of eventually being with The Chairman. And who was he, that Chairman? Who was that man we hear about, again and again and again? What's he like? Have they ever had a real conversation? I don't think so. She idealizes him, she never sees him as who he really is, she just keeps wetting holding that stupid handkerchief every night and that annoyed me. It felt childish and weird.

The only character I liked was Mameha, and she's the angel of the story, meaning that you're just supposed to like her because she's, well, perfect, kind, loyal and beautiful, the way Agnes is in David Copperfield or Melanie in Gone With The Wind.

The informations about Geishas were nice, I suppose, but I don't know how much of it is true. The war was awfully, awfully boring, and very badly executed.

I think you can see it was written by an American just by the way the United States are depicted. They atomically bombarded Japan and two of greatest its cities and yet, Sayuri doesn't even blink and say "The American troups were very kind to us and gave candy to the children." Er... Really?

The plot dragged on and on, and I had to struggle to finish the book. The ending felt rushed. I hate, hate it when authors do that. He wrote a whole book about someone's life, and the final chapter is soo rushed and it goes like "So that was forty years ago, now I'm seventy and I'm old and I'm gonna tell you what happened in my life between then and now in like, two sentences. So I married the guy I talked so much about, and then we went to live in the USA because that's like ZOMG the best country EVAR! And then he died, and.. Ah yes.. Did we have a kid? Oh, but wouldn't you like to know!.. Well you won't, cause I'm not telling you, neener- neener. Whatever I'm old, and I'm probably gonna die now LIKE A BIRD THAT FLIES AWAY", because what would be the final sentence without a nature-related comparaison, huh? Right. I swear, the book probably deserves an award, for like Worst Ending Chapter Ever or something. It made no sense, it gave no real closure.

Everything in this book was just so... flat. It tried to be epic and it tried to be a classic but it failed so badly. The characters weren't well fleshed-out, it was obvious that the Good people (Sayuri, Mahema) would triumph over the Bad (Hatsumomo), it was obvious that Sayuri would get her happy ending after all..

See, all throughout the book, I was completely disconnected, I didn't feel anything. I didn't smile, or laugh, I certainly didn't cry. I can't even say I'm angry or that I hate the book - because hatred requires that I care, and I don't. I'm just... indifferent. Bored. Unimpressed. And isn't it the worst state of mind you can possibly be in after you finish a book? Ultimately, it didn't leave a mark.

So the book as a whole was a major disappointment and I'm glad it's over. I just hope the movie might be better - I kept thinking it would be better to watch it, seeing how graphic the descriptions were (of the kimonos, for example). [Edit: So I saw the movie. Meeeh.]

But as a book, it was unconvincing and very flawed.
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Reading Progress

02/14 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 51) (51 new)


message 1: by Brandi (new)

Brandi That was painful, haha, wow!


SubterraneanCatalyst I think too, that this book is now "like a mouse expecting sympathy from a snake" ROFL lol. Great review :)


message 3: by Brandi (new)

Brandi SubterraneanCatalyst wrote: "I think too, that this book is now "like a mouse expecting sympathy from a snake" ROFL lol. Great review :)"

Hahaha,I was going to say something about feeling like that rock who gets beaten by the waterfall, but after reading all of those I couldn't bring myself to do it, haha!


Sophia. Hahaha, and imagine how I felt after reading the book. I was like a dam that had exploded, like a cat that wanted to sleep, like a butterfly that wanted to fly away hahaha.
It really, really is painful.


Jocelyn Great review! I read this a long time ago, but I remember next to nothing about it. All of my memories of plot, etc., come from the movie. Maybe I should reread it and re-evaluate my opinion, because those descriptions really were annoying, like a fly that you can't shoo away. :)


message 6: by Lilyan (new)

Lilyan Oh wow! I've never read this but it's supposed to go down as a classic from what I've heard of it!
But then again, Fifty shades of shit is getting equally good reviews and how disgusting is that? So, it goes to show, bestsellers are a lie.


message 7: by Lanika (new)

Lanika I was considering rereading this because I hated it the first time I read it. However, I attributed my dislike for this book as being more of a "I'm 13 and what is this!?" thing than a real critique of the writing. But even at 13 I found the use of simile and metaphor to be ridiculously heavy handed, from the get go (one of the first pages compares the limits of autobiography to a dog running through a field). I should trust 13 year old Lanika, this book was not good.


message 8: by Eve (new) - rated it 2 stars

Eve oh my god, your review killed me! :) I swear, I have the exact same opinion about that book, it was bleh and the ending was pathetically short and vague.
This thing about worshipping Americans bothered me too - it was so painfully obvious that the author is from US...


Sophia. Eve wrote: "oh my god, your review killed me! :) I swear, I have the exact same opinion about that book, it was bleh and the ending was pathetically short and vague.
This thing about worshipping Americans bot..."


Ohh Thanks Eve.
I know right? As if the american-soldiers-are-heroes thing wasn't enough, he had to make her ADORE the USA in the epilogue. Please.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh how my heart breaks. This is my favorite book, Sophia. :( But at the same time, I realize it is not for everyone. For me, I adored the characters and I still do. Even Hatsumomo. But the writing style is not for everyone. You actually made me want to read it again. This is the only book I own that I try to reread once a year. At any rate, this is still a really good review and I can see where you are coming from on all your points. It just hurts to say that. *walks away sobbing* LOL.


message 11: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Espinoza Haha! You review made me feel like a child being tickled on their feet, like an audience member in a good comedy show, like a fast food employee after getting their first paycheck. Hehe, anyway, it was pretty funny! Good review! :0)


message 12: by Sophia. (last edited Oct 24, 2012 04:29AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sophia. Kara wrote: "Oh how my heart breaks. This is my favorite book, Sophia. :( But at the same time, I realize it is not for everyone. For me, I adored the characters and I still do. Even Hatsumomo. But the writing ..."

Oh no Kara. I'm heartbroken. Your favourite book, really? (view spoiler) I suppose we can't agree on every book, but that'd be nice, wouldn't it? Haha. But I still love you, though :)
Anyway admittedly the book was readable, I mean, I did give it 2 stars so somehow it's okay. But definitely not my thing.

@ Rebecca : Oh thankss haha:)


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah, I felt for Hatsumomo because of her situation. She was desperate with no other options. Admittedly, she is a horrible person, but I kind of feel like she was backed into a corner with no way out.

And I totally understand that you didn't like it. I actually don't mind reading negative reviews of books I love. I like seeing different points of view. I know I see this book through rose-colored glasses. I'm okay with that. LOL.


Christina (A Reader of Fictions) Yay! I totally agree with you. The writing style and characters made me totally bonkers!


Moumita Sarcar omg i didnt know there ws another viewpoint until i read ur review..bt it opened my eyes as to how others see it.. i agree that its not in evryones temperament to bow n kneel n satisfy and what not, but sch ws their culture back then, n they took it very seriousyl.. it was a respectable job.. also sayuri's earning for the chairman was the only piece of hope she cud clung on in her entire life.. else she wud hv been a mess. yes the ending was seriously rushed!!! i mean if golden cud write so mch, did he gt tired at the end of the book?? :P
mameha was the best i believe.. the only one who has not been tarnished.. and the world war thing was also not in the proper light.. the true suffering misery and loath towards the bombings were not at all described... such is the golden bias :(
but nonetheless its a pure historical rich read if u cn go thru it again with a new outlook..that of feeling a part of the exotic past...


Mayra I totally agree with you about relating to Chiyo and not to Sayuri! Also I thought that the book was going to be well-paced from when she was like eight to when she was an old woman, but like you said, the end was all rushed and then for more than half of it she was like fifteen!


Meghan Anderson I just want to explain that a Japanese woman would not have tried change her fortune. Duty, honor and obedience were very real.

And comparison to nature would have been how they described their feelings and thoughts. It was very important.


Madison Turner I agree with Meghan. You really have to understand the culture before you make your judgements. Nature is extremely important in Japanese culture, and it wouldn't be unusual for Sayuri, who is often described as clever, to make many comparisons. And, yes, the culture also values duty and responsibility over self-determination. It would have been not only inaccurate but anachronistic if Sayuri, at any time in her life, had approached someone and told them what SHE wanted--that just would not have been done. It also has to be considered that back then women were of lower status than men. Why is it never questioned that married men took mistresses? Why are the mizuage of apprentice geisha sold to the highest bidder? Women were not respected, and nor were their wishes. Sayuri did not ask for help or try to better her situation on her own because she is restricted by the cultural values that have been instilled in her since birth. And as for the American soldiers--it was stated several times that Kyoto, in the beginning, did not feel the effects of the war as the rest of Japan did. But it also has to do with Sayuri herself. The way she perceives the American soldiers determines their role in Memoirs of a Geisha, because as the narrator of the story she dictates what is good and what is bad. She only tells about good experiences with the soldiers. Naturally that would translate into the soldiers being good themselves. I am not disreputing the review or its author; I am just saying, you have to really consider something before making any judgements.


Raagini Suresh Ya great review I agree wholeheartedly


Dieu Mi I was planning on giving this book 3 stars but after reading your review i only gave it 2. When i finished the book, i felt a discontentement though i couldn't figure out why exactly. Your review just explained everything.


message 21: by Sheree (new)

Sheree Morkal Rofl! There was a plus side to reading such a terrible book! You got to write a hysterical review. :-) your shelves are hilarious too.
Thanks for the review, I will avoid this book for sure.


Sarah Completely agree!


message 23: by Mike (new)

Mike I started laughing when the list of boring comparisons kept going on and on.


Arathy you spoke my heart...


message 25: by Servi (new)

Servi Thank you for this review. I just finished watching the movie and was debating reading the book. Def not going to waste my time..


message 26: by S. (new)

S. J. "Whatever I'm old, and I'm probably gonna die now LIKE A BIRD THAT FLIES AWAY", because what would be the final sentence without a nature-related comparaison, huh?"

LOVE! And the list. Great.
I didn't read the book but I did watch the movie and I couldn't connect. I thought it was the movie but maybe it was the source material.
Great job!


message 27: by Emily (new)

Emily The women he based this on has said that he has added false information. To counter it she wrote her own book, Geisha of Gion. She regretted speaking with this author cause of the crap he added.


Areli Hernandez i wold agree with you on it being a flat story. this is honestly the best book I've ever read and i read a lot. maybe you are just not into history or other cultures. throughout the whole book there was a a lot of metaphors and similes regarding nature because unlike the united states other countries including my own relate everything to nature. we think of nature as the ultimate source of our character and who we are. In japan everything revolves around nature.the food, the clothing, the stories, the medicine, everything. the characters could have been described and put more emotion towards but they did have a huge impact in the reading. for example, hatsumomo made chiyo's life impossible as a child and even after she became geisha. this shows how in the life of a geisha, you have to put up with a lot of thing and people who you detest and people who mistreat you and bully you.Pumpkin also falls into this category because that was the only person who was ever nice to her, who she wanted to see at dawn everyday, who she could relate to, and she lost that friendship all because of Hatsumomo. Later on in the movie Pumpkin betrays her because of the anger/envy that Hatsumomo has put into her soul and being. Chiyo never really got to live as a normal child would live today, she was taken from her family. her brain never left the childhood phase and always being put down and embarrassed by mother did not help. ofcourse she sounded like a child, she still was a child, even after 40 years later, she is a child inside. Chiyo describes how after Mahema turned her into her siter and she changed her name to Sayuri that she felt different. she became a person hiding under a mask and never showing herself. she always fantasized about older men because she knew no better. the chairman was the only man she cared about though, she just wanted someone to love her, to take her away perhaps but mostly to have someone to care for her. she did try to change her life a few times, like when she was going to escape with satsu and broke her arm. she tried to run away on her first day of school to find her sister. but after her sister left and she recieved the letter from Mr.Tanaka that her parents had died and that she had no one in her life but mother and auntie. she was alone in the world so what else could she do? who did she have to motivate her? no one. not even pumpkin. The chairman and Chiyo first met soon after chiyo found out about her parents death and after mother suspended her lessons. they met at a bridge and The chairman told her she was beautiful and that she was gong to be a geisha. he bought her a snowball of cherry flavoring and gave her money.he also gave her a handkerchief and she went to a temple and prayed that she would become a geisha meet the chairman again. she held the handkerchief becausehe was the first and only person to be ever be so generous to her. that was not wierd at all. I read more about the writer because at first i thought it was an autobiography but he went to Harvard so he obviously knew what he was talking about. this book is realistic-fiction meaning it might or might not be true. you say that there was not a lot of the war and how it was long in boring. however you have to keep in mind that she wasn't a soldier? and that they didn't have a lot of communication devices. she also didnt care about the war. she didnt really care about it, she didn't care for anything. sh explains that period as a depressing time. maybe you should try looking in to other genres (:


message 29: by Emily (new)

Emily Areli wrote: "i wold agree with you on it being a flat story. this is honestly the best book I've ever read and i read a lot. maybe you are just not into history or other cultures. throughout the whole book ther..."

I respect that you really like this book but the point where you said that the author goes to Harvard so he MUST know what he's talking about is a little silly. He didn't learn about the geisha life at Harvard. He searched out geishas willing to talk to him, there were very few as the life is a very secretive one. Majority of the book is based on one women cause she was the most willing to help him. He would have knew nothing without her.
He was suppose to write a genuine novel about what life as a geisha was like but he added stuff to make the novel to sensationalize it. Mineko Iwasaki, the women I was speaking of earlier, has spoken out on the book saying how its a false representation of what being a Geisha is like. She regrets speaking with him, she even wrote her own novel Geisha of Gion to reveal a more accurate picture.
Many people take this as a serious representation of Geisha life cause it is such a known book, and Gordon claims is accurate 100%.
It's okay that you like this book, it's just important you realize that the context of this book matters. Also education doesn't always mean an author know what they are talking about. A lot of people write about subject matter they know nothing about these days.


message 30: by Shree (new) - added it

Shree The moment when I noticed the fact that you actually put up so many of the comparison-thingies,I started laughing.
Like,dude,how long did it take you to find them,anyway?(unless you memorised them,which would be kind of creepy)....


message 31: by Janeen (new)

Janeen Oh Sophia, I do love the clarity with which you read, and the passion with which you write!


Sophia. Janeen wrote: "Oh Sophia, I do love the clarity with which you read, and the passion with which you write!"

Thank you so much Janeen!
Your comments are always sooo nice! Thank you, thank you. I mean it :)


María Del AGREE!


Julie This review is fantastic.

You know what's worse? I am listening to the audio version now and the lady they chose to read this is monotone and she really hits every consonant. She almost sounds like the voice you get when you choose text-to-speak on kindle.


message 35: by Sofia (new) - added it

Sofia Sophia. wrote: "Janeen wrote: "Oh Sophia, I do love the clarity with which you read, and the passion with which you write!"

Thank you so much Janeen!
Your comments are always sooo nice! Thank you, thank you. I me..."


I second Janeen. Your reviews are well-written, critical, and analytical. Not only that, but they're entertaining and fun to read. So I think I speak for everyone (everyone sane at least) when I say thank you for being such an awesome contributor to the GR community.


Sophia. Sofia (That Book Addict) wrote: "Sophia. wrote: "Janeen wrote: "Oh Sophia, I do love the clarity with which you read, and the passion with which you write!"

Thank you so much Janeen!
Your comments are always sooo nice! Thank you,..."


Oh my God, thank you so much Sofia. It's more than I deserve. But honestly, thank you. You literally made my day :) <3


message 37: by Sofia (new) - added it

Sofia Glad I made your day, Sophia. And you definitely deserved it :)


Meghan Ruffin I loved Memoirs of a Geisha but I loved your review on it even more! You brought up things I clearly didn't notice. Really glad I came across it, I think I was more engrossed in your review than I was in the actual book. I think I may have to do some rethinking on the 5 stars I gave. Thank you!


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) I couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, I didn't, even though I wrote my own review. Yours is better than the book by a mile. Of course I see online that the author studied at Harvard and lives in Brookline, MA. I wonder if he ever really went to Japan?


Sandra Castibel I have to say that you're right, I've read the Spanish translation before and is so much better than the original novel I've read some months ago. I have to congratulate the translator for doing such a good job making better this book.


Conzuelaeldodeh Hahhaha "LIKE A BUURD" I'm dying


Conzuelaeldodeh Hahhaha "LIKE A BUURD" I'm dying


message 43: by Novem (new) - rated it 1 star

Novem Your review so perfectly sums up my feelings on the book. It makes me sad that people actually think this book is an accurate depiction of Japanese or geisha culture when it's just cliché after cliché.


Jacob Young I happen to appreciate Golden's use of vivid imagery and metaphoric language.


Samantha I coudnt agree more with this review!You took the words right out of my mouth. It bothered me to no end how Sayuri continually played the victim. All of the characters were shallow, and the author gave us no reasons to like them. Anyway, your list of cliche metaphors had me cracking up. Good job. :)


Sanjana I have to agree! The metaphors all throughout the pages were painful to the point of not even making sense!


message 47: by Susannah (new)

Susannah I literally just put this book on my bedside table to begin tonight.....and then thought I'd check the reviews....
Oh ohhhh


message 48: by Susannah (new)

Susannah I literally just put this book on my bedside table to begin tonight.....and then thought I'd check the reviews....
Oh ohhhh


Natalia Sometimes slow is good, but in this case it dragged on for a while...but the book was very meaningful.


Britt YES! I'm not the only person who thought the nature comparisons were over kill. THEN he ends the BOOK ON A COMPARISON.


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