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Memoirs of a Geisha (Vintage Contemporaries) [Kindle Edition]

Arthur Golden
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3,130 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

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

Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men's solicitude and the money that goes with it.

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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

According to Arthur Golden's absorbing first novel, the word "geisha" does not mean "prostitute," as Westerners ignorantly assume--it means "artisan" or "artist." To capture the geisha experience in the art of fiction, Golden trained as long and hard as any geisha who must master the arts of music, dance, clever conversation, crafty battle with rival beauties, and cunning seduction of wealthy patrons. After earning degrees in Japanese art and history from Harvard and Columbia--and an M.A. in English--he met a man in Tokyo who was the illegitimate offspring of a renowned businessman and a geisha. This meeting inspired Golden to spend 10 years researching every detail of geisha culture, chiefly relying on the geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who spent years charming the very rich and famous.

The result is a novel with the broad social canvas (and love of coincidence) of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen's intense attention to the nuances of erotic maneuvering. Readers experience the entire life of a geisha, from her origins as an orphaned fishing-village girl in 1929 to her triumphant auction of her mizuage (virginity) for a record price as a teenager to her reminiscent old age as the distinguished mistress of the powerful patron of her dreams. We discover that a geisha is more analogous to a Western "trophy wife" than to a prostitute--and, as in Austen, flat-out prostitution and early death is a woman's alternative to the repressive, arcane system of courtship. In simple, elegant prose, Golden puts us right in the tearoom with the geisha; we are there as she gracefully fights for her life in a social situation where careers are made or destroyed by a witticism, a too-revealing (or not revealing enough) glimpse of flesh under the kimono, or a vicious rumor spread by a rival "as cruel as a spider."

Golden's web is finely woven, but his book has a serious flaw: the geisha's true romance rings hollow--the love of her life is a symbol, not a character. Her villainous geisha nemesis is sharply drawn, but she would be more so if we got a deeper peek into the cause of her motiveless malignity--the plight all geisha share. Still, Golden has won the triple crown of fiction: he has created a plausible female protagonist in a vivid, now-vanished world, and he gloriously captures Japanese culture by expressing his thoughts in authentic Eastern metaphors.

From Library Journal

"I wasn't born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha....I'm a fisherman's daughter from a little town called Yoroido on the Sea of Japan." How nine-year-old Chiyo, sold with her sister into slavery by their father after their mother's death, becomes Sayuri, the beautiful geisha accomplished in the art of entertaining men, is the focus of this fascinating first novel. Narrating her life story from her elegant suite in the Waldorf Astoria, Sayuri tells of her traumatic arrival at the Nitta okiya (a geisha house), where she endures harsh treatment from Granny and Mother, the greedy owners, and from Hatsumomo, the sadistically cruel head geisha. But Sayuri's chance meeting with the Chairman, who shows her kindness, makes her determined to become a geisha. Under the tutelage of the renowned Mameha, she becomes a leading geisha of the 1930s and 1940s. After the book's compelling first half, the second half is a bit flat and overlong. Still, Golden, with degrees in Japanese art and history, has brilliantly revealed the culture and traditions of an exotic world, closed to most Westerners. Highly recommended.
-?Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1219 KB
  • Print Length: 512 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0679781587
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage contemporaries ed edition (November 9, 1999)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,887 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
138 of 148 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Novel to Savor!!! May 9, 2003
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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63 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Evocative Peek Into the "Flower and Willow World" December 22, 1999
By Hikari
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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105 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating culture - great read June 3, 2005
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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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic and Evocative December 17, 2003
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Fascinating story made more interesting having just returned from Kyoto Japan where this story was set
Published 2 days ago by Stephanie Molloy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Loved it
Published 5 days ago by Ivelisse Davila
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellently crafted
Excellently crafted memoir that implants the imagery of a young geisha's life into your mind. This is not typically my genre, but I was pleasantly surprised by the narrative and... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Jacob
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Remarkable First Novel
Arthur Golden's remarkable first novel, "Memoirs of a Geisha," is disguised as the memoir of a geisha. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Dataman
5.0 out of 5 stars What a super book. So well written
What a super book. So well written. I found myself having a problem putting it down. Sure wish the author had written more books.
Published 13 days ago by Linny
4.0 out of 5 stars I had seen the movie first, so I knew ...
I had seen the movie first, so I knew the plot. However, there were surprising details that weren't in the film. The book is actually very different than the film. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Rachel Leach
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
i love this book
Published 16 days ago by Adele
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible
Incredible story of a time and place I never really knew existed. Couldn't put this down. A must read for everyone
Published 17 days ago by Doria Alberg
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!
I usually don't re-read books, but I've read this book many times. I love it! A great read if your looking for a book full of smiles and tears.
Published 23 days ago by Crystal Voss
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
Brief explanation about the novel: It is about an orphaned, young Japanese girl on a long and difficult journey to becoming a Geisha in the 1930's. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Sergiu Pobereznic (author)
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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.

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Translator's Note
Jakob Haarhuis is the name of a fictional translator. The note prefaces the book to give it an air of authenticity. I was sucked in as well. Don't feel bad.
Jun 21, 2009 by Robert Dawson |  See all 3 posts
Can anyone help... japanese books or travel related books????

I'd like to talk about my novel, but it doesn't fit what you are looking for so I'll recommend this one. Tom Carter traveled to every province in mainland China to put this together. He risked his life twice, once in Tibet and the second time... Read More
Apr 11, 2008 by Lloyd Lofthouse |  See all 5 posts
Not just a romance
I completely agree that the book is so much more then just a romance. The movie on the other hand....
Jan 27, 2007 by Clap your hands say Yeah. |  See all 2 posts
Looking for cultural female politics books, hard to explain, but maybe...
look for one called the iron lady. its a true story, but a good one its about a woman who rises from being a grocers daughter to being a prime minister.
Jan 6, 2012 by Morgan B. Gibson |  See all 2 posts
A Rose by Any Other Name
The whole book was pointless, which makes it boring. His prose is cheap and his selling pitch relies heavily on discussing a taboo; needless to say, he fails to deliver. We are supposed to cheer for Sayuri because she fights to be free, instead she fights to be a man's permanent concubine. Does... Read More
Apr 7, 2006 by Jonathan Chen |  See all 10 posts
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