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 Historical references are few and very vague or generalized.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.
Memoirs of a Geisha
This Work, Memoirs of a Geisha, by Michele Farrell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.