Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha


Author: Arthur Golden
Release Date: September 23rd 1997
Genres: Historical fiction, cultural
Series: NA
Pages: 503
Pacing: Slow/medium


A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha.

In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction – at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful – and completely unforgettable. 

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Quite a mixed read for me because it had many things that set it out from other historical novels but also many aspects such as the pacing in parts that made it a bit of a dull and average story. Let me get the negatives out of the way by saying I couldn’t really connect with any of the characters and I suppose the characters weren’t really meant to be connected with because this book more focuses on culture rather than feelings and character, it certainly felt that way to me anyway. The main character Chiyo/Sayuri is someone that both frustrated me and had me turning the pages, she frustrated me because she never seemed to question anything that was happening in her life which for me made it seem she lacked character especially that part in the beginning when that old lady made both she and her sister have an invasive inspection! 😛 I’ll admit I don’t know anything about Japanese culture or how Japanese children are brought up or how they behave but with Chiyo it did feel a lot of the time like she had no feelings of her own (this is before her geisha training too).

What I’ll say I liked about Chiyo/Sayuri’s story was the authenticity of all the geisha practices and the attention to detail in all the descriptions. It really did feel like I was getting a glimpse into this exotic yet brutal world and the narrative read more like a tour of this world rather than a story in some parts. But my main flaw was the lack of personality in the characters, and as I said in another post, I still think Chiyo/Sayuri would be a very interesting person to talk to in person as I have always wanted to ask in depth about Japanese culture and history and these were the parts of Sayuri’s narrative I really enjoyed in getting a feel for the culture.

My other flaw with this book is I felt there was too much idle time going on around the middle where a lot of the plot just revolved around party chatter. I know some of these parts were much needed in the plot and getting to know more about the characters, but I did feel it was a bit of an overkill sometimes especially after the exciting start to the story. So things did start to slow down in the middle parts which made the book a bit boring and it took a while for things to start speeding up again but when they did I will say I thought the parts with WW2 were well written with the only problem once again being the lack of emotion in the narrative. It was obvious throughout that the author had done his research deeply as all the settings and culture felt fully brought to life even if not the characters so much.

I will say I did enjoy this book, but I will also say I was expecting more in terms of making this book feel like a journey rather than just a viewing of the culture. I’ll definitely look for more non-western historical novels as this one proved to be a good choice of reads on my Japan trip this year! 🙂

japan kimono GIF

Who I’d recommend this for

Basically all historical fiction fans who are tired of only reading about Europe and the West. The world is so big and diverse so I don’t know why there are not more historicals on other parts of the world… Anyway, if you like to read about Japanese culture and enjoy a guided storyline then I would say this book is for you 🙂

One thought on “Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

  1. I have read this book many many years ago and really loved it. It is is on my ‘books to re-read’ list and I wonder how it will hold up on re-read now I have read so many more books.


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