Memoirs of a Geisha :: Arthur Golden

Prior to reading this book, I had almost no knowledge of Japanese geisha or much of Japanese culture. This book however, corrected this, giving me an insight into Japanese culture, ethical and moral and spiritual beliefs and standard of living – perhaps not quite a modern perception but a perception nonetheless.

Arthur Golden seems to be able to capture the essence of the lifestyle of a geisha of Kyoto, without necessarily ‘overdressing’ it, instead, carefully tracing the chronological journey of a young girl riding the waves of adversity that she is met with during the course of her youth and adulthood. It is interesting to read the work of such a skilled author – the language is simple, yet it evokes such a clear image of the world in my mind – so much so that I felt as though I had experienced it all, through someone else’s body, through someone else’s senses.

The strength of the main character (Sayuri) is admirable and with such a detailed account of her life, every action of hers is justifiable and understandable (given her history) thus adding a layer of realism to the novel. As I read the book, I seemed to follow the realisations that Sayuri has of the world around her – some of which I have already learned from personal experience, some of which I have heard word of – thanks to the euphemisms of tumblr :)

Quote One :: Confidence

I had learned of this in primary school, from my inconsistent observation skills during a drama task

A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory. Two men are equal – true equals – only when they both have equal confidence.

Quote Two :: Future & Past

I have heard these kinds of things being said countless times but not quite in this particular way – I have to say, it struck me as quite fascinating when I first read it.

Nothing is bleaker than the future, except perhaps the past.

Quote Three :: The Bright Side of Life

Always look on the bright side of life…dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum de dum de…

This song has made me feel even happier in times of happiness, but it has never made my hardships seem not so ‘hard’. Interestingly, it is thoughts of the past and the future that allow me to truly appreciate the present.

I need to be reminded that there is beauty and goodness in the world

Quote Four :: What Isn’t There

I am a dreamer. That is not to say I am not practical or realistic about present actions, but when thinking of the future, I tend to set unrealistic goals and expectations, and sad as I am to admit this, I waste endless hours thinking of how amazing my future could be – the key word being waste. Unfortunately, this time and energy comes out of my application in the present into dreaming of the future, instead of making it happen. This book was a wake-up call, one of those learning experiences gained from observing someone else’s mistake. Needless to say, the following quote had the most impact on me as a growing person.

From this experience I realised the danger on focussing on what isn’t there. What an unbearable sorrow it would be, to realise I’d never really tasted the things I’d eaten, or seen the places I’d been, because I’d thought of nothing but the Chairman [future] even while my life is drifting away from me. I would be like a dancer who had practiced since childhood for a performance she would never give.

Some fun facts about the publication of the novel itself:

Controversy followed the release of the book and the misleading link made within the book between prostitution and Japanese geisha.

It’s supposed to be fiction… but, after the Japanese edition of Memoirs of a Geisha was published, Arthur Golden was sued for breach of contract and defamation of character by Mineko Iwasaki, a retired geisha he had interviewed for background information while writing the novel. The plaintiff asserted that Golden had agreed to protect her anonymity, if she told him about her life as a geisha due to the traditional code of silence about their clients. However, Golden listed Iwasaki as a source in his acknowledgements for the novel.

In 2003, Golden’s publisher settled with Iwasaki out of court for an undisclosed sum of money. Iwasaki later went on to write her own autobiography, an account vastly different from Arthur Golden’s novel, published as Geisha, A Life in the US and Geisha of Gion in the UK.

Please note that I did in fact, use this Wikipedia page to write part of this post.

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9 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Geisha :: Arthur Golden

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