Matthew's Reviews > Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2018, completist-book-club, kindle, historical-fiction, library

This one is going to be a bit difficult for me to review. I enjoyed it, but it was kinda weird. It was interesting, but kind of slow. The historical fiction aspect is interesting, but I have seen many reviews critical of the actual truth of it all.

The pros:
- Very good storytelling - Each chapter was its own short story and I found it easy to read and stay interested.
- Characters - I was invested in the characters. In fact, I was so invested I could feel my loathing for one of the bad characters curdling in my very soul. It's usually a good sign when you want to reach into the book and smack a character.
- The setting and the history - it was fascinating to learn about Geisha culture in pre-WWII Japan and how different it is from anything in American history.

The Cons
- This one may not be fair because it is probably historically accurate, but the Geisha culture made all the male characters seem like creepers. So, even when there is one you are supposed to like or who is supposed to be a hero, you know that he is all about pre-pubescent, up-and-coming Geisha and hoping to be able to deflower as many as possible. Just skews things a bit.
- Kind of slow - even thought I thought the storytelling was great, there were a few times where it started to drag and I was ready to move on to the next part of the story.
- Accuracy - Without Goodreads, I would have probably never have known this, but it seems there is some question as to the accuracy of the account in this book. Often, other, more reliable titles are suggested. But, was this supposed to be a non-fiction memoir, a story based on some facts surrounding the Geisha culture but equal parts fact and fiction, or just a completely made up story? I am not completely sure, but it should provide some interesting follow up research.

So, I am going to go with 4 stars because it was an interesting story and despite some slow spots and creepers, it was pretty entertaining. Also, questions/controversy over its accuracy might actually raise the entertainment value!
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Reading Progress

July 22, 2016 – Shelved
July 22, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
June 30, 2018 – Started Reading
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: completist-book-club
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: kindle
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: library
July 7, 2018 –
page 30
6.91% "Invasive review"
July 10, 2018 –
page 45
10.37% "Not as expected"
July 13, 2018 –
page 59
13.59% "Pumpkin"
July 15, 2018 –
page 79
18.2% "Kimono"
July 15, 2018 –
page 92
21.2% "Sneaking around"
July 16, 2018 –
page 115
26.5% "Chairman"
July 21, 2018 –
page 128
29.49% "Mean Geishas"
July 25, 2018 –
page 154
35.48% "Geisha arts"
July 26, 2018 –
page 176
40.55% "Little sister"
July 30, 2018 –
page 197
45.39% "Sumo"
August 1, 2018 –
page 223
51.38% "The first cut is the deepest"
August 4, 2018 –
page 265
61.06% "Undressed"
August 5, 2018 –
page 288
66.36% "Kinda maybe got just a little bit weird, but I guess that is how things were back then in Japan . . ."
August 13, 2018 –
page 317
73.04% "Nobu"
August 18, 2018 –
page 357
82.26% "World War II"
August 25, 2018 –
page 398
91.71% "Island getaway"
August 27, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

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Stephen Looking forward to your review


Matthew Stephen wrote: "Looking forward to your review"

Thanks - this one is taking me a long time. Not sure why, as I enjoy it, just a long book, I guess!


Shaina I loved this book.


Kandice I've read quite a few reviews where the accuracy is questioned simply because Golden is a man and they went into it thinking they were reading an actual memoir. Geesh! I really enjoyed this and have read a LOT of Japanese historical fiction and think it's pretty close to the truth.


Matthew Kandice wrote: "I've read quite a few reviews where the accuracy is questioned simply because Golden is a man and they went into it thinking they were reading an actual memoir. Geesh! I really enjoyed this and hav..."

That is good to know - Thanks, Kandice!


Johanna H. You just have to see it as historical fiction and enjoy it. It's extremely good if you read it with this mindset


Shaina Agreed, Johanna


Matthew Johanna wrote: "You just have to see it as historical fiction and enjoy it. It's extremely good if you read it with this mindset"

Oh, don't get me wrong - I enjoyed it! Just wanted to mention a few of the things that came to mind while reading it (especially because I was discussing it in a book club).


Theresa All those same questions came to mind when I was reading it. I felt the introduction to the book sets it up to be perceived as a nonfiction, but I couldn't find anything to support that. It took me half the book to accept as just historical fiction, but after that I really enjoyed it. I think you capture that confusion perfectly here.


Matthew Theresa wrote: "All those same questions came to mind when I was reading it. I felt the introduction to the book sets it up to be perceived as a nonfiction, but I couldn't find anything to support that. It took me..."

Thanks! Yeah - it was a different overall experience for me where history and fiction collided . . . but definitely a good read!


Amanda Van Parys The geisha that Golden interviewed as the basis of this novel was Mineko Iwasaki who was publically offended by the novel. She was lied to about her anonymity (he published her name in the acknowledgements and mentioned her several times in interviews), messed around details (as would be expected - but she argues the details are offensive to the culture), and then Golden had the audacity to say that her opinions/feelings were wrong. He also lied about her selling her virginity. It's kind of confusing, but he publically stated the details were taken directly from her life story and she argues that she never sold her virginity and that the implication was highly (and understandably) offensive and damaging to her reputation and to the geisha, who are not sex workers. Here's an article from 2000:
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-en...
Then Mineko went on to publish her own memoir which is called “Geisha, A Life” in the US publication. Hope that sums it up! I also read this book in high school when it was published and loved it, I didn't learn the details surrounding its publication until a couple years ago myself. At the core, it is white privilege at its finest.


Matthew Amanda wrote: "The geisha that Golden interviewed as the basis of this novel was Mineko Iwasaki who was publically offended by the novel. She was lied to about her anonymity (he published her name in the acknowle..."

Thanks for the info! Some of that was along the lines of what I had heard. When you hear this while you are in the middle of reading it, it starts to skew how you interpret it. So, it is both enjoyable, but also disturbing and questionable. With all things considered, I am not sure I have felt this confused about my end opinion on a book! The 4 star was my attempt to rate it with an open an uninformed mind. I feel like if I was reading this as part of a book report and had to pull in all the other background info, my official rating might change.

Thanks again for the info - I am going to check that article out now!


message 13: by Amanda (last edited Aug 28, 2018 07:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amanda Van Parys Not to say it isn't a well-told story, but the lines between fiction and non-fiction were blurred to the extreme. The title alone caused confusion and a lot of people thought this was an actual memoir and it was about Mineko Iwasaki. I notice I still have my own original 4-stars on it. I'll have to change it, and one day review it explaining why. I feel that as we are all growing more socially aware, we have to take into the account the authors themselves, the development of the book, sensitivity, and the means of collecting info. We can no longer just accept authors' words with a grain of salt. I'm trying myself to be a more mindful reader in regards to these things in the background.


Matthew Amanda wrote: "Not to say it isn't a well-told story, but the lines between fiction and non-fiction were blurred to the extreme. The title alone caused confusion and a lot of people thought this was an actual mem..."

With all the information out there now, it is definitely much easier to be an informed reader! I too was confused from the get go about whether it was fiction or non-fiction. I remember after reading the first couple of pages looking over at my wife and asking if it was a true story or not.


Bitchin' Reads I agree--it is one of those books that is hard to rate/review, and just as hard to put your finger on if you truly liked it.


Matthew Bitchin' wrote: "I agree--it is one of those books that is hard to rate/review, and just as hard to put your finger on if you truly liked it."

It was pretty good storytelling . . . after that, let the discussion and debate begin! :)


Shaina Oh cool!! So glad to know the actual. My grandfather visited a lot on business trips and he said, they are not prostitutes like ppl think.


Matthew Shaina wrote: "Oh cool!! So glad to know the actual. My grandfather visited a lot on business trips and he said, they are not prostitutes like ppl think."

Yes - this book tread a fine line with that!


Melanie I am glad to see you enjoyed this Matthew. I read this so long ago I don't remember details but I gave it 5 stars! I do remember being impressed that the story was told from a female perspective by a male author and thinking he did a really good job.


Jen Great review Matthew! I saw another person already told you about “Geisha, a Life”, but I wanted to add my two-cents worth re: recommending it. That book was, IMHO even better than this one, and I really enjoyed this one, so worth a look-see maybe. :) Have a good one!


Matthew Melanie wrote: "I am glad to see you enjoyed this Matthew. I read this so long ago I don't remember details but I gave it 5 stars! I do remember being impressed that the story was told from a female perspective by..."

I also thought it was interesting to have a man writing from a women's point of view, and he did do a good job. I guess the question for the reader is if it is okay based on the potential controversy? I'll try and remember it without the controversy!


Matthew Jen wrote: "Great review Matthew! I saw another person already told you about “Geisha, a Life”, but I wanted to add my two-cents worth re: recommending it. That book was, IMHO even better than this one, and I ..."

Thanks, Jen! I am sure I will get to it someday - whenmy Geisha hangover is gone! 😄


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