Difference between revisions of "Memoirs of a Geisha"

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[[Category: World War II]]
[[Category: World War II]]
[[Category: Japanese Culture]]
[[Category: Japanese Culture]]
[[Category: Books I've Tead]]
[[Category: Books I've Read]]

Revision as of 14:02, 24 September 2018

US hardcover, first edition.

Memoirs of a Geisha is a novel by Arthur Golden published on 1997-09-27. It tells the story of a Japanese girl named Chiyo Sakamoto who, at the age of nine, is sold to a geisha boarding house where she is taught to be a geisha. She becomes very successful and brings a lot of money to her house, but, despite being adored by many menu, her life is cold and lonely, and she falls in love with a man she can never be with.

I heard about this book in the mid-2000s because it became popular enough to have a movie made about it. I wisely read the book before seeing the movie, and I really enjoyed the book, and though the movie was passable. Afterward, I read what critics had written about book and was disappointed to learn that the book exaggerates Japanese culture so much to the point of Orientalism. It also gets several points of geisha life wrong, for example, in the book, geisha auction off their virginity, but in real Japanese culture, only prostitutes would do this, not geisha. Because of this, I feel like Golden exploited Japanese culture to tell his story, and I no longer appreciate the book as much as I initially did.


I own a first edition hardcover copy and have read it.



  • The story is well-written, and I always find welcoming the plot of a woman persevering through serious hardships.
  • Hatsumomo is a fiendishly evil villain.
  • The author, Arthur Golden, consulted actual geisha for information about the book, which is nice.


  • Golden is a Western author telling a story set in Japan before he was born. Naturally, he gets a lot wrong. Biographies written by actual geisha tell markedly different stories.
  • The geisha house believes the transparent lies of Hatsumomo far too eagerly.
  • In general, fiction is expected to exaggerate reality to make it more interesting, but Golden uses someone else's culture in order to do this. Actual Japanese people have said that his descriptions of Japanese culture aren't too far from racist caricature.


  • Mineko Iwasaki, one of the geisha with whom the author consulted to get inside information into the life of a geisha only spoke with him on the condition that her identity never be revealed, but the author included her name in the finished book anyway.
  • The introduction paints the book as though it is an actual biography of a real geisha, and the narration keeps it going. Having not paid attention to the cover which identifies the book as a novel, I took the writing at face value and assumed I was reading a real biography for the first half of the book, but several aspects of Japanese culture were described to suspiciously, it caused me to check the veracity online and confirm it was indeed entirely fictional. I don't like it when authors pretend their fiction is real, it makes me feel cheated.