Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha is one of the highly popular books written by American author Arthur Golden in 1997. For years, I didn’t want to read it or watch the film because everyone who doesn’t usually read books had read and praised it as if it were groundbreaking. I’m so happy I didn’t read it back then. When I read it now, I couldn’t help but be surprised to see how badly written it was.


Memoirs of a Geisha is written by an American male author, as you can see. Previously, we did not care about such issues; we read books without thinking about them, and we either loved or disliked them. Nowadays, we are more interested in authors’ backgrounds, and in general, we want to read women’s stories from women writers. Would this book be read if it was written now? To be honest, I’m not sure if publishers would be willing to print it. But those issues aside, I haven’t read such a poorly written book in a long time.

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

Besides getting no literary pleasure, I drowned in elements of “Japanese culture” that didn’t add much to the main story. It was also a nightmare to read all the nonsense details. It is clear that the author’s concern is to try to tell a compelling story by describing Japanese culture, about which he knows a lot. Otherwise, it does not have a more profound or sublime purpose, which is evident in every line, and it starts to bother the reader after a while. Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’ve been thrown on by many metaphors, kimonos, and Japanese culture.

In summary, Memoirs of a Geisha is a poorly written novel that is too long and nevertheless has a rushed ending. I recommend Memoirs of a Geisha, especially if you’re after reading any book written about geishas or Japan. If you’re looking for a good book, stay clear.

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha

This story is a rare and utterly engaging experience. It tells the extraordinary story of a geisha – summoning up a quarter century from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan’s dramatic history, and opening a window into a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation.

A young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Her memoirs conjure up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of geisha – dancing and singing, how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the land’s most powerful men.

An epic tale and a brutal evocation of a disappearing world’ The Times

‘Intimate and brutal, written in cool, lucid prose it is a novel whose psychological empathy and historical truths are outstanding’ Mail on Sunday

Arthur Golden

Arthur Sulzberger Golden (born December 6, 1956) is an American writer. He is the author of the bestselling novel Memoirs of a Geisha (1997).

Golden was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the son of Ruth (née Sulzberger) and Ben Hale Golden. His mother was Jewish and his father a gentile. Through his mother he is a member of the Ochs-Sulzberger family. His mother was a daughter of long-time Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger and granddaughter of Times owner and publisher Adolph Ochs. His parents divorced when he was eight years old. His father died five years after. He was raised in Lookout Mountain, Georgia and attended Lookout Mountain Elementary School in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.

Golden spent his middle and high school years at the Baylor School (then a boys-only school for day and boarding students) in Chattanooga, graduating in 1974 before attending Harvard University and receiving a degree in art history, specializing in Japanese art. In 1980, he earned an M.A. in Japanese history at Columbia University, and also learned Mandarin Chinese. After a summer at Peking University in Beijing, China, Golden worked in Tokyo, before returning to the United States, where he earned an M.A. in English at Boston University.

Golden’s most well-known novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, was written over a 6-year period. The novel was re-written in its entirety three times during its development. Golden changed the point of view with each re-write, eventually settling on Sayuri’s perspective.

During research for the novel, Golden conducted interviews with a number of geisha, including famous ex-geisha Mineko Iwasaki. After the Japanese edition of the novel was published, Golden was sued by Iwasaki for breach of contract and defamation of character, with Iwasaki alleging that Golden had agreed to protect her anonymity if she was interviewed about her life as a geisha, due to the traditional code of silence held between geisha in regards to their clients. The lawsuit was settled out of court in February 2003.

After its release in 1997, Memoirs of a Geisha spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. It has sold more than four million copies in English and has been translated into thirty-two languages around the world. In 2005, Memoirs of a Geisha was made into a feature film, starring Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, and Ken Watanabe. The film was directed by Rob Marshall, and garnered three Academy Awards.

In 2000, Golden received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Japanese Literature – A Literary Journey

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