Memoirs of a Geisha Review ⭐️

Arthur Golden’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ is a beautifully written novel, with an impressive use of imagery and detail. But his lack of full historical context on the geisha profession is noticeable. 

Memoirs of a Geisha

Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha‘ by Arthur Golden is a multi-layered narrative told from the perspective of Sayuri, a young girl born into a poor family but destined for greatness. Drawing on Japanese culture and literary traditions, it is filled with vivid imagery, lyrical prose, and a sense of unfolding destiny. 

Recapping Memoirs of a Geisha

The life of the geisha is fragile and complex, so be taken away to a world where beauty and poise are held in high regard. Join in on the journey as she discovers a newfound freedom that comes with darkness. Golden’s vivid descriptions of Chiyo’s life as she embarks on an unimaginable journey. Experience every emotion-filled moment and be inspired by her resilience and determination to achieve greatness despite difficulties.

Sold as a child by her desperate father, follow Chiyo’s unique transformation from a servant to one of Kyoto’s most important geishas. Chiyo is taken and adopted by an okiya, a geisha house owned by Mother. She is trained in the Japanese arts of dance and the tea ceremony. Despite her talent and beauty, Hatsumomo is threatened by Chiyo’s presence and subjects her to unyielding cruelty.

As Chiyo becomes Sayuri, men offer to be her Danna, an honor–in contrast to Western expectations–that does not include sex. Although Sayuri has many different admirers, she longs for a man she can’t have. Geishas spend hours painting on bright white make-up, caring for their luxurious kimonos, and honing their skill at conversation, as Golden flawlessly depicts. While Geisha are taught that feelings are impermanent, Chiyo learns that respecting her feelings leads to a well-earned, satisfying, and happy ending.

Golden’s Use of Imagery

Sayuri’s ever-changing circumstances and struggles are depicted throughout the novel through the imagery of water. According to Japanese culture, water represents constant movement, so Golden uses this simile to convey Sayuri’s ever-evolving life; she can’t control her destiny, just like water can’t control you.

I can see you have a great deal of water in your personality. Water never waits. It changes shape, flows around things, and finds the secret paths no one else has thought about- the tiny hole through the roof or the bottom of the box. There’s no doubt it’s the most versatile of the five elements. It can wash away earth; it can put out the fire; it can wear a piece of metal down and sweep it away. Even wood, which is its natural complement, can’t survive without being nurtured by water. And yet, you haven’t drawn on those strengths in living your life, have you?

In this quote here, Golden’s detailed imagery and the personification of water perfectly describe Sayuri’s personality. The element of water in her personality is one of the key reasons she can persevere through her difficult life.

Water vs. Wood

The metaphor of water versus wood in this book offers a unique perspective on life. Through Sayuri’s story, you can learn how to embrace the elements of water that are in your personality and use them to find success and joy despite life’s hardships. “Water flows from place to place and always finds a crack to spill through. Wood, on the other hand, holds fast to the earth.” This foreshadows Sayuri’s life; although she is constantly having to move from one place to the next, she always finds a way around things.

Memoirs of a Geisha Criticism

A substantial portion of the book is based on conversations Golden had with Mineko Iwasaki during the 1960s and 1970s, one of the most popular geishas. Especially since the geisha community practices much discretion with its culture, Golden sought insider information from Iwasaki. In exchange for his information, he promised to keep her identity confidential and deliver reliable information. In the end, he failed to protect her identity and exaggerates geisha to the comparison of prostitutes.

The story of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha is filled with ethical missteps, untruthful inaccuracies, and a disservice to the subject — all of which had serious consequences. Through meticulous archival research and cross-cultural examination, readers can get an in-depth look at the issues that plagued this book and what it reveals about writing about Eastern culture from the lens of a Westerner.

Memoirs of a Geisha Book Review: Golden's Controversial Historical Novel
  • Story
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Writing Style
  • Dialogue
  • Lasting Effect on Reader

Memoirs of a Geisha Review

Golden’s historical fiction novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, is a first-person telling of Sayuri’s life of becoming Japan’s most famous geisha. Often seen as a success among western views, Golden’s sometimes exaggerated accounts of geisha culture and tradition can be seen as misrepresentations of their world.


  • Descriptive imagery.
  • Strong metaphors.
  • Emotional connection with the protagonist, Sayuri.


  • Mis-information about specific details of geisha culture and tradition.
  • Certain main characters lack depth.
  • Slow dialogue.
Jacob Campbell
About Jacob Campbell
Jacob received a BA in English from Adam State University, along with a minor in Creative Writing. He pursues his love of reading and writing through his work for Book Analysis. 
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