Alena's Reviews > Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
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Jan 31, 2008

it was ok

Golden earns points for creativity, but loses them for inaccuracy.

The "memoir" of the elegant Sayuri, whose life as a high-class geisha is disrupted by the outbreak of war, is written in an intriguing and alluring monologue -- purportedly narrated by Sayuri herself to the author -- that pulls the reader in from the very beginning. Unfortunately, the real narrator, Arthur Golden, took some dramatic liberties with history and cultural practices, and the fallacious elements sprinkled throughout detract from a potentially fascinating story. (This may not present a major issue to a reader who has no prior knowledge of Japanese culture, but such a reader should also be warned NOT to take this book as a factual representation of life in Japan.)

Additionally, although the narrative starts strong, it loses momentum partway through the story. By the time the inevitable tremors of World War II began to shake the cultural bedrock of Japan, I was already beginning to lose interest in the artificial suspense.

Overall, the book is written fairly well, and I can see why some readers would like it... but even while I was reading, I couldn't help feeling that I should have enjoyed it more.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2006 – Finished Reading
January 31, 2008 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Joan Husmann It is historical FICTION.

message 2: by Alena (last edited Feb 16, 2013 02:10PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alena Joan wrote: "It is historical FICTION."

Sure. But if I wrote a story set during the War of 1812 and had the soldiers firing AK-47s, it would be called out as bad historical fiction. Likewise, if the author makes wildly inaccurate claims about Japanese culture and lifestyle -- such as the book's whole premise that all geisha are basically just high-class prostitutes -- he should be called on it.

Geisha have been around for centuries (and in fact were originally men, not women!). The misconception of geisha as prostitutes dates to the occupation of Japan by American soldiers after WWII, when the local call girls co-opted the term to attract foreign customers (kind of like those flyers in Las Vegas that promise the services of "showgirls." They may be girls, but there's no guarantee they've ever been in a show).

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