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Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel Paperback – January 10, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 434 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage contemporaries ed edition (January 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679781587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679781585
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,974 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The first thing you notice about the audio version of Memoirs of a Geisha is that Arthur Golden's 428-page novel has been reduced to a scant two cassettes. But dismay quickly gives way to mounting pleasure as Elaina Erika Davis (Contact, As the World Turns) begins her delicate rendering of geisha culture in the years before World War II. Davis reads the abbreviated story of Sayuri with an authentic-sounding Japanese accent--one mixed with a magical combination of Asian reserve and theatrical energy. As Sayuri ages from a 9-year-old peasant girl to a popular geisha in her late 20s, Davis directs her voice gently away from curious youth to a tone that reflects Sayuri's uphill life.

From start to finish, the listener is absorbed in the elegant spirit of Davis's performance, eager to hear the next chapter of Sayuri's transformation into one of the most famous geishas of the century. How unfortunate, then, to learn that book readers not only get the basic story, but a fascinating look at the intricate rules and rituals of geisha culture. Here, for example, is one of the many revelations omitted from the cassette: "Japanese men, as a rule, feel about a woman's neck and throat the same way that men in the West might feel about a woman's legs.... In fact, a geisha leaves a tiny margin of skin bare all around the hairline, causing her makeup to look even more artificial.... When a man sits beside her, he becomes that much more aware of the bare skin beneath."

We're also denied several subplots--the aborted friendship between Sayuri and a geisha named Pumpkin, for example, or much of the story involving the man Sayuri is secretly in love with. But what remains is as precious as a traditional Japanese kimono--at once artistic, suggestive, and moving. --Ann Senechal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Golden puts to good use his studies of Japanese culture at Harvard and Columbia in this story of Sayuri, sold into slavery at a geisha house in 1929, who finds that she's on her own when World War II starts. The 75,000-copy first printing says a lot about the publisher's commitment to this debut novel.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Arthur Golden was born and brought up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is a 1978 graduate of Harvard College with a degree in art history, specialising in Japanese art. In 1980 he earned an MA in Japanese history from Columbia where he also learned Mandarin Chinese. In 1988 he received an MA in English from Boston. He has lived and worked in Japan, but now lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife and children.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
5 star
1,997
4 star
529
3 star
223
2 star
131
1 star
94
See all 2,974 customer reviews
This book is a page turner, and Chiyo is a sympathetic character for most of the story.
Calliope
Such a beautiful work, which weaved a real life like story, it was difficult to believe that this was a fiction written very well.
Adhnan@compuserve.com M Taha
One of the ways I like to rate books is how much I miss them when I'm finished and I feel as though I've lost a good friend.
Jason Chan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

135 of 145 people found the following review helpful By M. Allen Greenbaum HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most beautifully written novels of the past 20 or more years, and definitely one of my personal favorites. Arthur Golden, a student of Japanese art and language, paints a remarkably true-sounding account of one woman's training and practice as a geisha. There's not a false note in the writing: The characters, dialogue, and emotional content all ring true. Aside from some slightly plodding descriptions of the protagonist's introduction to the geisha district of Gion, the pacing is excellent.
I kept waiting for Golden to slip, for some implausibility in character or plot development, some anachronism or "artistic license" that would have made me feel cheated-but it never happened. Without further research, it's difficult for me to comment on the book's historical and cultural accuracy, but it always felt true, and Golden's simple but powerful language is absolutely compelling. The book surpassed my already high expectations, and increased my appreciation of--and curiousity about--historical Japanese social structure in general, and geisha culture in particular. Above all, this is a completely satisfying book about perseverance within boundaries. Both the story and the writing are filled with grace, power, and beauty.
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58 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Hikari on December 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a "gaijin" (foreigner) who spent 6 years in Japan and had ample opportunity to witness many of its social customs, I think it's worth noting that the setting Mr. Golden creates in his "Memoirs" is very much of a Japan gone by. This is sad. It is precisely the aspects of Sayuri's world that are the most exotic to us which exemplify the best of what is uniquely Japanese. Modern Japanese cherish the remnants of that romantic past the same way that Americans revere tales of our pioneering forbears--as a way to hold on to, and honor all that was poetic and noble about ourselves.
I think it also bears mentioning that the average Japanese person today knows almost as little about the life of a typical geisha as the average Westener. Geisha entertainment has always been the province of extremely wealthy, powerful men--going to a teahouse to be entertained by geisha served the same function for a Japanese VIP that a British one would find at his tony men's club. Throughout the centuries that Japan's entertainment quarters--"the flower and willow world" as they call it--has existed, the number of patrons who could afford top-notch geisha entertainment for themselves and their friends has been an exclusive club indeed. In today's highly Westernized and technology-worshipping Japan, the idea of a geisha party is nearly as anachronistic and unattainable as it is here. Geisha belong to the same catagory as cowboys, knights on horseback and damsels-in-distress: cultural icons who have no place in the modern world. Mr. Golden does a superb job of capturing some of the magic of Sayuri's metier for those of us who will never have the opportunity to witness it firsthand.
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103 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Christina B. Erickson on June 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
I loved this book! From the minute I picked it up I couldn't put it down. It tells the story of a young girl sold into geisha training in Japan. I had no idea how much of an art form geisha was in this pre-WWII setting Gion and it was very interesting to learn so much more about it through the eyes of a young girl caught up in it. Sayuri is a wonderfully drawn character with a wide range of emotions as she endures cruelty, jealousy, misery and a whole new way of life and comes to accept it, excel in it and even embrace it. Particularly intriguing are the questions and conflicts raised by the novel about destiny, love, survival and tradition. The movie is coming out in December so I highly recommend reading it now.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Review Lover on December 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
As a twentysomething Irishman who's only ever lived in the UK, my contact with traditional Japanese culture, society and history is, as you can imagine, scant. However, Golden's classic 'Memoirs of a Geisha' is so beautifully crafted, and so powerfully descriptive, that even my bare knowlege of Japanese history is extended by having read it.
It's the fictional story, cleverly told from an autobiographical point of view, of one of Japan's most famous and enthralling Geisha, a woman of a profession commonly mistaken for prostitution (Golden draws some clever and insightful distinctions between the two, both in general and specifically). Sayuri tells her story from her humble beginnings as Chiyo, the daughter of an impoverished fisherman, through desperation, war and trial, to the final happy ending.
For a man to write so convincingly as a woman is a very rare thing - Nick Hornby's 'How to be Good' is an example of how it can go wrong - but for an American man to write so beautifully and convinvingly as a Japanese woman from a highly secretive society is an unequivocal triumph. We believe, from the first few chapters, that Sayuri is this observant, silent little thing, a lower-class child facing the arduous and enforced task of becoming a Geisha. We are there with her when she is sold into servitude, when she attempts a failed escape, when she eventually becomes a successful geisha - all thanks to Golden's rare gift for combining a strong plot with incredible descriptive prose. You can smell the incense and see the kimono as Sayuri is preparing to go to work.
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