Summary and book reviews of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha

by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
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  • First Published:
    Sep 1997, 434 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 1999, 434 pages

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Book Summary

An alluring tour de force: a brilliant debut novel told with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism as 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. 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, always elusive, is scorned as illusion.

Sayuri's story begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. Through her eyes, we see the decadent heart of Gion--the geisha district of Kyoto--with its marvelous teahouses and theaters, narrow back alleys, ornate temples, and artists' streets. And 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. But as World War II erupts and the geisha houses are forced to close, Sayuri, with little money and even less food, must reinvent herself all over again to find a rare kind of freedom on her own terms.

Memoirs of a Geisha is a book of nuances and vivid metaphor, of memorable characters rendered with humor and pathos. And though the story is rich with detail and a vast knowledge of history, it is the transparent, seductive voice of Sayuri that the reader remembers.

A dazzling literary achievement of empathy and grace by an extraordinary new writer.

Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, "That afternoon when I met so-and-so...was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon." I expect you might put down your teacup and say, "Well, now, which was it? Was it the best or the worst? Because it can't possibly have been both!" Ordinarily I'd have to laugh at myself and agree with you. But the truth is that the afternoon when I met Mr. Tanaka Ichiro really was the best and the worst of my life. He seemed so fascinating to me, even the fish smell on his hands was a kind of perfume. If I had never known him, I'm sure I would not have become a geisha.

I wasn't born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha. I wasn't even born in Kyoto. I'm a fisherman's daughter from a little town called Yoroido on the Sea of Japan. In all my life I've never told more than a...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group's experience of reading Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. We hope that they will give you a number of interesting ideas and angles from which to approach this enthralling debut novel, which is the fictional true confessions of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha.

The strikingly pretty child of an impoverished fishing family, Chiyo is taken to faraway Kyoto and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house where she is renamed Sayuri. Initially reluctant, Sayuri must finally invent and cultivate an image of herself as a desirable geisha in order to survive in Gion's cruel hierarchy. Through her eyes, we are given a backstage ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

John Burnham Schwartz - The New Yorker

There is a particular pleasure to be found in reading a novel that is sui generis and yet is imbued with subtle shadings of its literary predecessors this is a high-wire act. To protect himself against falling, the author has brought to his task a prodigious trove of research ... and an uncanny degree of empathy for ... a woman usually regarded in the West as either caricature or museum piece.... Rarely has a world so closed and foreign been evoked with such natural assurance

John Burnham Schwartz - The New Yorker

There is a particular pleasure to be found in reading a novel that is sui generis and yet is imbued with subtle shadings of its literary predecessors this is a high-wire act. To protect himself against falling, the author has brought to his task a prodigious trove of research ... and an uncanny degree of empathy for ... a woman usually regarded in the West as either caricature or museum piece.... Rarely has a world so closed and foreign been evoked with such natural assurance

Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks
A haunting tale of a hidden world that could hold an audience spellbound through many an evening in a lantern-lit teahouse.

Author Blurb Elinor Lipman
Memoirs of a Geisha is a masterpiece. Every detail on this canvas is fascinating, even arresting, while at the same time the bigger portrait--the story, the truth told, a life revealed--is spellbinding.

Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks
A haunting tale of a hidden world that could hold an audience spellbound through many an evening in a lantern-lit teahouse.

Author Blurb Julia Blackburn
Sayuri tells her story with such gentle courtesy and determination that you are quickly brought under the spell of her character. She takes you by the hand and leads you into a world that is both formal and intimate, a world that I had only before glimpsed in the fleeting and beautiful images of traditional Japanese ink painting...Memoirs of a Geisha is a wonderful achievement.

Author Blurb Ann Beattie
Wonderful, involving, intelligent, fascinating, and almost Dickensian in the way the characters inhabit the landscape, and the landscape permeates the characters. It's a unique, beautifully written book.

Author Blurb Pico Iyer
I still can't quite believe that an American male can so seamlessly enter the soul of a Japanese woman, and catch her world, its textures, its hopes, and its sinuous patter with such perfection. Memoirs of a Geisha evokes all the delicate steel of Kyoto's geisha culture with such uncanny fidelity that, after you've finished, you feel as if you've entered not just another world, but an extraordinary and foreign heart.

Reader Reviews

Marg Riel

masterpiece
Memoirs of A Geisha can be described as one word; "masterpiece." Each detail creates an unexplainable imagine and you can envision yourself in the story. The author tells her story willingly and purposely allows the reader to put ...   Read More

Linda Gear

Memoirs of a Geisha
I love this book. It will always be near me. I have read it numerous times and never tire of it. I read other books, but this one is always nearby.(I also have the movie). I love the dialogue of Sayuri her raw story of being cruelly taken from ...   Read More

sayuri

moag
Nice! Captivating!

Gene R. Hyde

Memoirs of a Geisha
I thought it was an elegantly written book, not without controversy, about a culture I’m truly fascinated with. I could vividly see myself in a Japanese Tea House, and all of the exquisite richness of simplicity, obsessive love, and pain, while ...   Read More

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