Skip to main content

Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden


     I'll start with my one and only complaint about this book.  My complaint is that the entire time I was reading the story, I thought that it was true.  I thought, because of the title and the tone of the book and the Translator's Note, which is narrated by a (I assume) fictional author/historian, that a geisha named Nitta Sayuri had dictated the story of her life to the author, who had simply massaged her memories into a plot arc.  (Ew, was that phrasing creepy? Massaged?)  Only when I read the Acknowledgments, at the end of the book, did I realize that Sayuri is a made-up character with a made-up life story.  The actual author, Arthur Golden, did extensively interview an actual geisha, Mineko Iwasaki, in order to write the book, and I realize now that the cover professes itself "a novel by Arthur Golden," so I can't be too mad at him.  But I did feel betrayed when, after 428 pages of rooting for the captivating, resourceful, unstoppable, improbable Sayuri, I realized that she never existed.
     Now that I have complained, I can rave for the remainder of this review.  Memoirs of a Geisha follows a girl, who eventually takes the name Sayuri, from her childhood in a Japanese fishing village to her apprenticeship and career in Gion to her final home in New York City. Watching the interactions of the characters in this book was fascinating - I especially noticed the evolution of Sayuri's friendship with a fellow geisha, Pumpkin, and the effect that a sociopathic (hehe, I've diagnosed her based on my previous reading) geisha called Hatsumomo has on herself and those around her.  I also loved the language in this book, especially the unlikely similes and nature imagery.  The descriptions of kimono made me (hopelessly) wish to find a kimono at the Goodwill. Kimonos, makeup, and physical beauty in general were very important to this story, which brought up questions about the role/subjugation of women in history.  Sayuri's life seems glamorous until you remember that her success and survival are entirely dependent on whether she can please men at parties.  Thank God I'm not a geisha because if I tried to pay the rent by pleasing men, I would be homeless.
     This book wasn't just entertaining, lyrical, and thought-provoking - it was also educational.  I knew nearly nothing about geishas before I read this - I thought that maybe they were expensive Japanese prostitutes. I know a lot more now, but I'll only tantalize you with a little of what I've learned.  Did you know that most geisha started out as slaves, and yet being a geisha offered women more opportunity for power and upward mobility than perhaps any other position in Japanese society?  Or that geisha went to school all their lives, becoming masters in arts and entertainment? Or that they had a big problem with dandruff?  The best thing about reading is that every book you read shows you a new perspective.  I emerged from the pages of this book slightly less ignorant about Japanese culture than I was before.

     - Carly

Popular posts from this blog

Best Reading from my First Semester

Ok, my only excuse for this long-ass hiatus is that I started college, and what with exams, essays, friends, newfound independence, and minor dramas, I nearly forgot I had a blog until this week.
But I'm back now, and here to tell you about the best books and stories I read during my last semester.

Novels
1. Citizen: An American Epic by Claudia Ward - A multi-media masterpiece about modern racism, with a particular focus on microaggressions.
2. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward - The story of a young girl coming of age in an impoverished area of Mississippi, on the brink of one of the great natural disasters of the last decade.
3. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - A classic allegory of the racial justice movement in America.
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison - Possibly my favorite book ever, Beloved is based on the story of Margaret Garner, a woman who escaped slavery with her children and, when recapture seemed inevitable, killed her children to their being returned to slavery.
Shor…

Book Review: The Spanish American Short Story, edited by Seymour Menton

I love the cover of this book.  Look closely - it's a little skeleton man clasping his hands over a cup of black coffee.  I don't know what it means, but it's delightful.      Anyway, I read this collection of short stories in Spanish - El cuento hispanoamericano - for a class I am taking this semester, but it is also available in English.  According to my professor, it's a unique book in that it offers the best representation of Latin American short stories throughout modern history, with details about literary movements and authors as well.  I liked some stories better than others - "The Tree" by Maria Luisa Bombal and "The Ruby" by Ruben Dario were my favorites - but even the ones I disliked, such as "Secret Love" by Manuel Payno, were included because they were representative of a certain movement or regional style that was worth acknowledging.        My only issue with this book is that a story I just mentioned, "The Tree,&…

Book Review: Che by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

I'm back with another graphic novel!  And this one isn't about zombies - it's about Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, better known as Che Guevara.  This beautiful, color-illustrated comic book is a biography of the revolutionary figure, from the famous motorcycle trip he took through Argentina partway through medical school, to his success as an Argentinean communist fighting for Fidel Castro in Cuba, to his capture by government soldiers while aiding rebels in Bolivia, and subsequent execution without trial.
     A good fourteen pages of the novel are spent describing in brief the history of every country in South America.  I admit that I found this section boring at first.  But honestly I benefited from it, first of all because in high school I learned very little about South American history.  World Wars I and II got a lot of attention in my history classes, but the revolutions of Latin American countries did not.  So this book gave me a crash course.  Second of all, t…