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Memoirs of a Geisha Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 23, 1997

4.6 out of 5 stars 3,406 customer reviews

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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (September 23, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375400117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375400117
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3,406 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
The strengths of the book shine through from the first page to the last. Golden's poetic and beautiful imagery, tinged with zen simplicity, understanding and appreciation for beauty and nature, inform the narrator's thoughts and descriptions, and while not always peaceful or reflective, the feel of the novel comes across as genuine. A Japanese reader may well feel that this is a cheap rendering of their speech and culture; but the target audience is the west, readers reading in English, and to an American there is a natural grace to Golden's prose, unforced and simple, yet often vivid and imaginative.

The weaknesses are unfortunately in the story and in some of the characters. Simply put, the story line comes across as jerky and episodic, random and finally contrived, and too pat. The story's ending, with the heroine achieving her goal at long last, almost entirely by wild luck and coincidence rather than the twenty years of pining and planning that have been described, is not satisfying, and is clumsy. She has done nothing to earn this, and little to earn so much else.

The characters are similarly spotty. Her erstwhile friend and later competitor Pumpkin is well drawn for a minor character, and the changes in her personality over time are interesting and well done. Hatsumomo, the villain of the novel, is sharply drawn and genuinely scary, a well executed character. And Nobu is perhaps the most fully realized character in the book; by the end of the story, his gruff but honest quality, and how he is treated, actually makes the narrator less sympathetic. But the narrator comes across as thoughtful, kind, and good; however, indecisive, and prone to allow fate to decide her course in life.
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