Memoirs of a 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. (
Year of Publication
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Random House
New York, New York
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Average: 3 (1 vote)


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Review of Memoirs of a Geisha

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art and Art History
Posted On: 01/08/2016

I had wanted to read Memoirs of a Geisha for a number of years and was glad to have the opportunity to finally do so. Was I disappointed? No, not really. Like most readers, I was drawn into the tale of Sayuri, her harsh early life and gradual ascent into the exoticism of a prominent geisha. I feel the primary reason that the reader is so easily drawn into this fictional story is because of Arthur Golden’s writing style. It is very descriptive and he lavishes attention on minute details, especially concerning Sayuri’s inner life. Also, his first person, memoir format makes it a very personal telling of Sayuri’s saga. Is it an accurate depiction of the life of a geisha? Although Golden claims to have done considerable research, including interviews with Mineko Iwasaki, a famous Gion geisha in the 1960s and 1970s, I can’t help feel that it has been written from a Western male point of view. A nine year old Sayuri meets “The Chairman” and falls hopelessly in love with him. She spends the next eighteen years pining for him, even becoming a geisha in the hopes of meeting him again. This smacks of a Western male fantasy. The fact that Iwasaki subsequently sued Golden for breach of confidentiality (by speaking to Golden, she had violated the traditional geisha code of silence) and published her own book about her life, gives credence to the novel’s inaccuracies. Is Memoirs of a Geisha an historically accurate depiction of Japan and Japan’s history? Historical references are few and very vague or generalized. What the book excels at is the subtle and rich depictions of Japanese cultural practices such as the tea ceremony, Sumo wrestling, and geisha training. Not being an expert in Japanese culture, I have no idea if Golden’s representations of these practices are accurate or not, but they are convincing. It is important to remember that this is a work of fiction, even if it is historical fiction, and must be read as such. I don't believe I would use this book in my studio art or Art History courses.