Robin's Reviews > Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
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's review
Apr 08, 2014

really liked it
bookshelves: cultural-studies
Read in May, 1999

Arthur Golden, scholar of Japanese art and literature, tells this convincing personal history of a geisha in the first person. I was skeptical that a Western man could represent a woman living in Japan during another era (1930s -1960s). However, for the most part I found myself believing that a young woman was telling the story.

And a rich story it is, following young Chiyo who is sold to a geisha house to learn the art of the geisha. Beginning as a 6-yr. old servant with willful ways, she learns new social mores through pain and betrayal as well as happy twists of fate. As she struggles to become a high-ranking geisha, she falls in love, most unfortunate because geishas must serve the needs and desires of men as their house mother dictates.

The characters are carefully developed, for the most part. The notable exception is the man that Sayumi (the geisha name that Chiyo must assume) loves. He seems distant and somewhat featureless, making it difficult to see his appeal, however, I could accept this by applying the adage "love is blind."

I am far from expert on Japanese culture, but from what I have read, Golden states his facts correctly. In addition to his studies, he interviewed a former geisha for much of the information (she later sued him for crediting her and wrote a book of her own--a cultural misunderstanding based upon her need to be anonymous to save face, a fascinating story in itself). A rather long and complex read, but well worth the effort.

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