Memoirs of a Geisha



Being a firm believer in experiencing a story in the form of its original intent (i.e. if it was first written as a book, I want to read the book), Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden has been on my must-read list for quite some time. Finally I was able to check it off!

I’ll admit, I loved the book because it was so, well, different. At the same time, it’s difficult to blog about because there are so many different topics one could tackle. Gender roles, economics, culture, love, and war are only a few different elements that are vital to this story.

The book is unique in that there is nothing in our American culture with which to compare the geisha of Japan. They aren’t really prostitutes, yet their virginity is given to the highest bidder. This description of a successful geisha’s life was filled to the brim with irony. The girls who are “lucky” enough to become geisha are trapped by their profession while simultaneously are grateful for a means to some degree of independence.

What was incredibly bothersome was that in addition to this being a recounting of the life of a geisha, it was also intended as a love story. Yet, the entire story (including the sprinklings of sexual encounters) had nothing whatsoever to do with love. There was no talk of love, no mention of the word. Chiyo/Sayuri (the main character) never mentions love at all, neither in relation to her family nor to the men for whom she grows to have strong feelings.

It makes me wonder whether people are taught to love or whether they have the ability to do so inherently. In our culture people talk of love from the time our babies are newborns. By the age of 5, kids know even that there are different types of love. Would they know these things without our lavishing it upon them? Something to think about…


*April 7, 2006 addition: I finally watched the movie! While the theatrical presentation deviated from the original manuscript, it was still a pretty good represention. It actually helped me understand the life of a geisha a little more. I will concede this: the movie version does a better job of contrasting the Japanese and American cultures in the 1930's. I found myself wishing the people of our country were as graceful and dignified as the Japanese people. Still, I maintain that you should definitely read the book before watching the movie!