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Dec. 23, 2005

"Memoirs of a Geisha" is unforgettable

by Merlyn Deng, Online Editor-in-Chief
Warning: This novel contains some sexual themes.

The world has wondered about the mysterious lives of the Japanese women called "geisha" who live to entertain men with their mastery of dance and the arts. In "Memoirs of a Geisha," Arthur Golden reveals the secretive world with his poignant tale about the struggles and triumphs of a geisha named Sayuri.

Before Sayuri became one of the most famous geisha in the century, she was Chiyo, a poor fisherman's daughter with strange gray eyes. After her parents' untimely deaths, Chiyo and her sister were torn away from their simple lives. While her sister is sold into prostitution, Chiyo attains a slightly better fate as a servant in the Nitta teahouse.

Although she escaped prostitution, Chiyo's initial days as a servant is ruined when she incurs the wrath of the star geisha and principal earner of the teahouse, Hatsumomo. But with luck, Chiyo attracts the eye of Hatsumomo's rival, Mameha and attains a geisha-apprenticeship. With this apprenticeship, Chiyo masters dance, music and the art of the geisha. When she finally becomes a full-fledged geisha, she has surpassed Hatsumomo in earnings even, secures the position of the teahouse's "daughter" and has her name changed to Sayuri Nitta.

Golden's Sayuri is the mysterious geisha whose life's mysteries separate her from the readers. Sayuri possesses all of the characteristics necessary for a true female heroine: she's tenacious, exotic and exceptionally talented. But underneath all the success, Sayuri is a girl who never gives up and surpasses all of the natural disadvantages around her. Sayuri's development is Golden's major accomplishment in the novel.

Golden's writing style is mediocre at best with its technical proficiency and realism. His novel is based solely on research and a runaway imagination, which are only parts to a truly accomplished literary piece that effectively explores themes and plot. For example, Golden does not delve into the mundane aspects of being a regular geisha, whose life is clearly different from Sayuri's illustrious life just by reading the snippets of descriptions of lesser geisha in his novel. The backdrop of the novel is weak and, and readers are deprived from the undoubtedly interesting aspects of a regular geisha.

Because of Sayuri's choice to focus on Sayuri, an unusually successful geisha, this novel should be avoided if readers are seeking an accurate story about the rapidly disappearing traditional entertainment in Japan. If readers want accuracy, they should look to Mineko Iwasaki's biography, "Geisha, a life" (Iwasaki was a principal source for much of the material in Golden's novel but had written this biography as a retaliation against inaccuracies presented in "Memoirs")]. If readers can safely ignore a lopsided perspective on the geisha's life, the story is an impossible-to-put-down type of novel that has readers ignoring all else until Sayuri's story ends.

Note: A movie based on the novel is slated for release on Dec. 23. The movie stars ZiYi Zhang as Sayuri and Michelle Yeoh as Mameha.

Read Silver Chips Online's movie review of "Memoirs of a Geisha" here.



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  • YEA on December 24, 2005 at 6:47 PM
    This movie was amazing, but a little long!
  • hhmm... on February 5, 2006 at 6:37 PM
    i thought it was a rather dull book...
  • * on February 18, 2006 at 9:57 AM
    the movie was soooo good, but i agree, it was a little long.
    the costumes were beautiful.
  • ciara (View Email) on October 5, 2007 at 6:32 AM
    i genuinely loved it!! alot of people seem 2 beg a differ but :-(
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