“This is why dreams can be such dangerous things: they smolder on like a fire does, and sometimes they consume us completely.”
Author: Arthur Golden
Release Date: November 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover, 434 pages
Source: Goodreads Swap
In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan's most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.
We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child's unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto.
In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha's elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O'Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work - suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.
Memoirs of a Geisha certainly opened the "door" to Eastern culture for Western readers, so to speak. However, the historical inaccuracy left a bitter taste in my mouth, which is the reason for such a mediocre rating. A few key things were hit and miss for me:
The writing style was inconsistent- I was immediately drawn into little Chiyo's story from the first page. It is obvious that Golden knows what he's doing. However, it seemed as if he was trying too hard to mimic "Japanese" prose. Everything was related back to nature in some way. Overall, the writing flowed well in some places, but fell short in others and came off as a bit contrived. I can only take hearing "like a bird/river/sky" so many times before I want to give up.
Heavy stereotyping- Keep in mind that Arthur Golden is a white male telling a story through the eyes of a young, Japanese female. As such, this novel is geared towards an American audience and ultimately perpetuates many of the stereotypes we hold about Japanese people and their culture. Unfortunately, some dramatic liberties were taken with the historical aspect of this novel. (This may not present a major issue to a reader who has no prior knowledge of Japanese culture, but also keep in mind that this is not a factual representation of life in Japan, 1940 or otherwise.)
Sayuri- I liked Sayuri well enough; she was intelligent, cunning, and knew what she needed to survive. The only thing that I had an issue with was despite all of that, she couldn't define herself outside of endlessly pursuing the Chairman. I understand that in Eastern culture (and even in the West until recently), it was considered a woman's duty to find a man, settle down, and become good little Suzie Homemaker. Despite knowing that, I still found myself frustrated by the whole situation.
The ending felt rushed- While everything was wrapped up nicely, I still felt like something was missing. After Sayuri tells her story and all is said and done, it takes maybe a couple chapters to end the book. This did not seem nearly enough to me.
Overall, I would only recommend this book to readers who have no prior knowledge of Asian cultures and can take a white man's interpretation with a grain of salt. Otherwise, you will only be stuck in the same predicament as I was. Which to say, was disappointed.