Argona's Reviews > Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
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it was amazing
bookshelves: all-time-favorites, dark, historical-fiction, romance, classic, reviewed, age-gap, favorite-romance

I became fascinated with Japanese culture when I was a teenage girl and since then I have read many Japanese-related books and articles and have watched many movies and animes that depict parts of Japanese culture but the fact remains that I am not Japanese, I have never been to Japan and I am a foreigner, captivated by this exotic and very different culture.

As a foreigner, I see many beautiful and unique aspects to Japanese culture but I also know about certain painful historical facts such as treatment of women in certain eras of Japan. My point is, I don’t want to discuss accuracy of this book regarding Geisha life. I am not Japanese and I am not a historian and therefore, I am not qualified to judge. So I keep my opinion and impression Geisha to myself.

It appears that this story is based on the life of a certain geisha, but the author clearly states that both the story and characters are fictional and I am going to stick with that.

I admit that I was disappointed when I realized that this turned out to be fiction, only and only because I had been told otherwise by author himself while reading the preface. I mean, what’s with the contradiction? I couldn’t understand the pretense. Why pretend this is a real story when it’s a beautiful fiction? What’s wrong with fiction? I admit, as I reached the end of the book, I came to realize why the author tried to portray this story as a real life story when writing the introduction but I will write about that later.

I liked the writing style. Some people may find it pretentious but I understood that this is an attempt to write as close as possible to Japanese style of writing and story-telling and to seem poetic. The writing also helped me to see the world through Chiyo’s eyes and better understand her mind. I should mention that Chiyo and Sayuri are the same person.

Some people may say, parts of the story drag on and on and yet nothing important happens. I quickly get bored but I couldn’t put this book down once I had started reading and I had already seen the movie years ago. This is not a perfect book but it is an amazing one. Little Chiyo simply captivated me with her story.

I wanted her to survive, to fight and to find happiness. There isn’t a single character in this story that I actually hate. They are all different human-beings with flaws of their own that struggle to survive and get by their hard lives. Some choose to do so by crushing others and some choose to do so by fighting their way through and lending a helping hand when they can.

I might have had a few explosions regarding treatment of women and the way chiyo’s mind operates if I didn’t know Japanese culture at the time of this story well enough. I have Japanese friends, so I know what I am talking about it.

Chiyo is quite young when she falls in love with a man much older than her, too young in my opinion to fall in love but I understood her feelings. The moment she meets the love of her life, Chairman, is a turning point in her story and happens to be my most favorite part.
Yes, she focuses her entire life on reaching this man. As a woman, I would have liked her to have bigger goals and dreams of her own and for example, seek freedom or independence but when I think about her situation, her education and upbringing, I get her.

Chiyo is a slave, being trained for the sole purpose of pleasuring men. Men that mean nothing to her and are like alien beings. Up to this point, not a single person has shown her any kindness without ill intentions and when she is about to lose her faith in humanity, a man appears out of nowhere and shows her true kindness. Finally, a man means something to her. One of these men that she is supposed to serve has a face and value to her. I am not surprised she made it her life-purpose to reach him. I would have liked her to interact more with him during the course of the story but it wasn’t really necessary. Chairman was the man SHE wanted and SHE desired for herself. Considering her life, that was a big goal. And I didn’t really need to know more about Chairman. He was the symbol of true kindness. Her dedication to reach him was moving and touched me very deeply.

As I said before, during parts of this story, nothing important really happens, but I was eager to learn more about Geisha life. The author is obviously well-informed and has done his research. The story was interesting enough. All characters seemed real and relatable. I even liked Hatsumomo! And even though I wanted Chiyo to reach the love of her life and therefore happiness more than anything, I liked Nobu a lot too. He was a great man but it’s not like we can change our emotions or how we feel about different people and their behaviors whenever we want to. I could feel Sayuri’s misery and fear as she had to make decisions that would ultimately hurt people dear to her, from Pumpkin to Nobu. Sayuri is simply human. She too acts selfish and neglects her friends. I don’t blame her but I wish she had acted differently at certain times, at least regarding poor Pumpkin.

I also clearly felt the touch of war and the darkness that spreads over hearts and souls at such a time. The fear, pain and misery as everything changes and there is no longer any certainty to the future.

I was touched by the relationship between Chairman and Nobu, even though it was only behind the scene and between the lines. Once you think about it, it was a very deep and touching bond. Although poor Sayuri had to suffer because of this very bond, I understood why Chairman had to act the way he did.

The only part of the book that made me laugh and shake my head at the author, the AMERICAN author, was the part regarding American soldiers throwing candy at children. It was mentioned abruptly and I found it very funny. Two nuclear bombs and this is what Sayuri comments about. Yes, I am sure American soldiers weren’t as scary as they were supposed to be but they were still invaders. It takes time for certain wounds to heal. It’s not about American soldiers. It’s about war, invasion and loss!

At the end, this is not a fairy-tale. I am a fan of fairy tales and I firmly believe in happy endings. Ironic, since in real life, I am very realistic and even cynical. But when I open a book, I want happy endings. Somewhere along the way, I had started to dream of a fairy-tale style happy ending for little Chiyo and reading the last pages of the book left me a little sad. That’s why as I mentioned above, it was after finishing the book that I understood why the author has tried to sell this story as a real one. All throughout the book, the story tries to remain realistic(Which is why sometimes nothing really happens) and it's important to remember this, when reading the bittersweet ending, Otherwise, the ending might feel a little unsatisfactory and even rushed. But the truth is, the bittersweet ending was still a happy ending, just a realistic one. Still, I wasn’t 100% happy with it. I agree that the author could have done better just by adding 50 pages or so.

In conclusion, this is the beautiful story of a little innocent girl as she fights her way through life and hardships in an unfair society and struggles to reach her loved one and have a reason to simply wake up every day and live. This is not a fairy tale but it does contain certain elements of those tales therefore this book is not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it and find it very memorable and special.
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Quotes Argona Liked

Arthur Golden
“He was like a song I'd heard once in fragments but had been singing in my mind ever since.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

Arthur Golden
“Of course, a sign doesn't mean anything unless you know how to interpret it.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

Arthur Golden
“I never seek to defeat the man I am fighting, " he explained. "I seek to defeat his confidence. A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory. Two men are equals - true equals - only when they both have equal confidence.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha


Reading Progress

August 16, 2013 – Shelved
August 16, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
October 22, 2014 – Started Reading
October 22, 2014 –
page 15
3.46% "So...the story isn't real? What's with the pretense?"
October 28, 2014 –
page 40
9.22%
October 29, 2014 –
page 82
18.89%
October 30, 2014 –
page 157
36.18% "After getting over my initial annoyance, the story is as beautiful as I remember it. I know most of the story but I still find it captivating. \n "
November 1, 2014 –
page 210
48.39% "Sayuri just met her precious Chairman for the second time and it's adorable. She really wants to talk to him and she is forced to look elsewhere. This moment, that little Chiyo finally gets to meet her savior again, is very moving and special to me, considering how much she tried and hoped for it.\n "
November 2, 2014 –
page 235
54.15% " So I lay down on a sheet spread out on the wooden floor and closed my eyes while Mameha pulled my robe up until I was exposed almost to the hip.\n “Remember that if the cut needs to be deeper, you can always do it again.” Mameha said.”Start with the shallowest cut you can make” \n \n Thank you Mameha. Such kind and comforting words when you’re about to cut up your little sister."
November 2, 2014 –
page 260
59.91% "Really? Eels and Caves? Once again, thank you Mameha for this wonderful metaphor that will most likely, haunt me for the rest of my life. Where are birds and bees when you need them?\n "
November 4, 2014 –
page 334
76.96% "Only 100 pages left to the end of little Chiyo's tale.\n "
November 4, 2014 – Shelved as: all-time-favorites
November 4, 2014 – Shelved as: dark
November 4, 2014 – Finished Reading
November 5, 2014 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
November 5, 2014 – Shelved as: romance
November 5, 2014 – Shelved as: classic
November 6, 2014 – Shelved as: reviewed
November 29, 2014 – Shelved as: age-gap
January 3, 2015 – Shelved as: favorite-romance

Comments Showing 1-50 of 71 (71 new)


Lola I KNOW!! :O I thought it was based on a true story!! But it was AMAZING nonetheless. Are you enjoying?


Argona I am. It's a very captivating story and I am very fond of Japanese culture so this is kind of a Must-read! Not to mention, I have a thing for romances between a young woman and an older man and the scene Sayuri met the Chairman for the first time(movie)is one of my all time favorites.


message 3: by Kat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kat I vaguely remember being disappointed when I discovered it wasn't real after all.


message 4: by Argona (last edited Oct 28, 2014 03:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Argona My friends were disappointed too when I told them that this is the case. What's wrong with saying this is a fiction like so many other amazing novels? The pretense really annoyed me.


Lola I loved the romance too. ^_^ So intense and captivating!


message 6: by finecat (new) - added it

finecat Oh, wow, I thought the book was based on a true story too. That's okay though because most of us know, all too well, that most fiction has a bit of truth swirling around within, and most non-fiction has a bit of embellishments throughout :-)


Argona Beautifully said, finecat. I couldn't agree more with you. I admit, now that I have finished the book, I understand better why the author tried to pretend that this is a real story. All throughout the book, the story tries to remain realistic and it's important to remember this, when reading the bittersweet ending, Otherwise, the ending might feel a little unsatisfactory and even rushed.


message 8: by finecat (new) - added it

finecat Thank you, Argona :) What you state is so on-point, as well. In addition, your reviews are very well thought out, as are your responses to comments. I'm happy to have you as one of my GR friends!


Argona Thank you so much, finecat. You made my day with your kind words.^^I'm also very happy to have you as one of my GR friends and I enjoy talking to you.:)


message 10: by finecat (new) - added it

finecat Aawww :-)))) xoxo


message 11: by finecat (new) - added it

finecat And <3 <3


Argona *hugs*:)


message 13: by Cora (last edited Nov 06, 2014 12:52AM) (new)

Cora Argona, It is a very nice review. ;-)
I have a question. I am not familiar with the Japanese culture, will I have problems understanding the story?


Argona Thank you, Cora.^^ I don't think you will have any problems understanding the story. The book explains everything in good details and mentions the Japanese terms too. This way, if you have a hard time imagining something, like a Kimono or Obi, you can easily google it and hundreds of pictures will pour in. If anything, I think this book helps to learn more about Japanese culture and become familiar with it.


message 15: by Cora (last edited Nov 06, 2014 01:14AM) (new)

Cora I was planning to listen to the audiobook. I think it is better to read the book based on what you mentioned,to get the spelling of terms right!

I think I am just familiar with the Kimono!

Thanks for replying super fast.:-D


Argona You're welcome.^^ Being familiar with Kimono, you're already half way there.XD Don't worry about the rest.


message 17: by TL (new)

TL Lovely review z:)


message 18: by Cora (last edited Nov 06, 2014 03:40AM) (new)

Cora It is great,then. Hehehe. :-)
I googled obi already.

I am sort of warned by your review regarding the treatment of women!


Ingie Fantastic review, Argona! I remember I loved this book years ago (and later the movie as well). Reading your review I can feel it all over again, a sadness in the middle of the beauty of it. ~ So very nicely said and done. Big applause!


Argona TL wrote: "Lovely review z:)"

Thank you so much, TL.^^


Argona Cora wrote: "It is great,then. Hehehe. :-)
I googled obi already.

I am sort of warned by your review regarding the treatment of women!"


Yeah, try not explode. Japanese culture used to be quite patriarchal and men(Father particularly) used to rule households and women had to be obedient and respectful. Obviously, modern Japan is an entirely different world so you and I don't need to increase our blood pressures over it.XD Of course, as women, it's always painful to read historical facts such as these.


message 22: by Argona (last edited Nov 06, 2014 05:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Argona Ingela wrote: "Fantastic review, Argona! I remember I loved this book years ago (and later the movie as well). Reading your review I can feel it all over again, a sadness in the middle of the beauty of it. ~ S..."

Thank you so much, Ingela. You always make my day with your wonderful comments! Considering you're a fan of the book, I am very honored that you like my review. I liked the movie too, but there are some big differences between the movie and book and I think I prefer the book. Sayuri's voice and explanations are necessary to understand the events.


message 23: by Cora (new)

Cora Argona wrote: "Cora wrote: "It is great,then. Hehehe. :-)
I googled obi already.

I am sort of warned by your review regarding the treatment of women!"

Yeah, try not explode. Japanese culture used to be quite pa..."


Yeah, as a woman,I know what you are coming from. I try to keep everything you said in mind while reading the book.


Argona Glad to help. I look forward to hearing your opinion on this book.^^


message 25: by Alejandro (new) - added it

Alejandro Good review, Argona! :)


Argona Thank you, Alejandro.^^


message 27: by Kat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kat Lovely review, Argona. Great to read that this was a win for you.:)


Argona Thank you so much, Loederkoningin.:)


Sheziss Great review, Argona. I loved it :) .

The ending made me really sad, too. It's supposed to be a HEA but it didn't feel like it for me.


Argona Thank you so much, Sheziss. I completely agree. I had to convince myself that it was a happy ending by telling myself it was a realistic one. I mean, I knew Chairman's marital situation but it still felt too sad and unfair.


Sheziss That's it, sad and unfair.


Kelly (and the Book Boar) Excellent review! (And maybe me commenting here will FINALLY get your reviews to show up on my feed without me hunting them down.)


Yodamom Great fantastic wonderful review !
It was a sad, beautiful, broken and thriving book. My heart pained at many moments in the story. I watch and read a lot of asian work and tend to feel there is rarely a happy ending. : ( Being raised on Disney, I want a song and a smile at the end.
Anyway your review spot on for what I remember


Wendy'sThoughts Thank you for the detailed and feeling review. I read this when it first came out. I purchased this and The Red Tent for a trip to New York and the plane rides. I started this on my return trip. I arrived home and put off everything to finish it...saying only 1 more hour... all night long until I completed it. It felt real... and I loved every minute of it.

I am very glad to have been directed to your review by Shelby's...you are Goodreads Famous :DD


Liz* Fashionably Late Goodreads Famous! Lovely review, Argona (:


Argona Kelly (and the Book Boar) wrote: "Excellent review! (And maybe me commenting here will FINALLY get your reviews to show up on my feed without me hunting them down.)"

Thank you so much, Kelly! My reviews don't show up? I have the same problem with a few of my friends. Maybe we have too many "Top friends"?XD


Argona Yodamom wrote: "Great fantastic wonderful review !
It was a sad, beautiful, broken and thriving book. My heart pained at many moments in the story. I watch and read a lot of asian work and tend to feel there is ..."


Thank you so much, dear Yodamom. You're very kind!^^ I am glad you liked my review. I agree with the lack of Happy endings in Japanese literature, specially in the classic ones or realistic ones. Classic Japanese movies also have a tendency for depressing subjects and endings and since many of them are black and white, I can't even bring myself to watch them!:( We need way more Happy endings!


Argona Wendy'sThoughts wrote: "Thank you for the detailed and feeling review. I read this when it first came out. I purchased this and The Red Tent for a trip to New York and the plane rides. I started this on my return trip. I ..."

Thank you so much for your AMAZING words! My eyebrows reached my hairline in surprise!XD I am honored that you consider me Goodreads Famous when I am just an insignificant member. Glad you liked my review. Since I had seen the movie first, it took me a long time to actually read the book but once I started, I couldn't put it down either. Happy to hear this book made your trip even more enjoyable!^^


Argona Liz* wrote: "Goodreads Famous! Lovely review, Argona (:"

Thank you so much for your lovely words, Liz.*hugs*


message 40: by Carole (new)

Carole (Carole's Random Life in Books) Great review, Argona! Congrats on being GR Famous!


Argona Carole's Random Life wrote: "Great review, Argona! Congrats on being GR Famous!"

Thank you so much, dear Carole!^^ I doubt I am actually GR famous, but thanks again!XD *hugs*


message 42: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, that is a pretty damn good review. I was never interested in the book because the movie didn't really enthrall me. Maybe this is another case of book surpassing movie because it sounds like it has more depth and I also love realistic and bittersweet endings.


Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘ Wow, what a review!! Bravo!


Argona Kat Stark wrote: "Wow, that is a pretty damn good review. I was never interested in the book because the movie didn't really enthrall me. Maybe this is another case of book surpassing movie because it sounds like it..."

Thank you so much, dear Kat. Your words honor me, considering what an amazing reviewer you are yourself. I do believe that in most cases, book surpasses the movie. I liked the movie but I watched it only once. While I may not read this book anytime soon, the truth is that the story is so memorable that I don't need to. Although, I think it's important to be interested in Japanese culture in order to really like this book.


Argona Alienortothemoon✭ wrote: "Wow, what a review!! Bravo!"

Thank you so much!^^


message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

I think I'm familiar enough with it to appreciate it. Pretty sure my mom has this book already >_> and failed to complete it, but she's not one for reading, so I might just steal it and give it a try. And thank you for the hefty compliment.


Argona Kat Stark wrote: "I think I'm familiar enough with it to appreciate it. Pretty sure my mom has this book already >_> and failed to complete it, but she's not one for reading, so I might just steal it and give it a t..."

Hope you enjoy the read.^^


Gabriela Teixeira It's amazing how much I agree with this review. You did a great job writing it!


Argona Gabriela wrote: "It's amazing how much I agree with this review. You did a great job writing it!"

Thanks, Gabriela!


Nicole Amazing review, Argona. I can't agree more. I picked up this book mostly because i was fascinated by japan and its culture and i loved it. I understand what you mean by why make it look like a biography it annoyed me a little. But still it was beautiful. After finishing i wanted to know more about their era, even though i don't know anything about it, i think the author made a good job assembling infos and details since they aren't easy to find.


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