Arthur Golden is an American writer and enthusiast of Japanese history, art, and culture. He spent all of his early adulthood studying and researching so he could write his famous novel ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’ To this day, it’s the only piece of writing he has produced. His success with the novel was instant and would last for two years.
Here is a collection of quotes from ‘Memoirs of a Geisha‘ and his own personal quotes from a few interviews he agreed to.
Memoirs of a Geisha
The novel is narrated in the first-person by the novel’s protagonist, Sayuri. Golden centered all themes around Sayuri, basing them upon her mental and physical person. Her beauty is described as “soft” and “delicate,” while water is often used to personify her personality.
Now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.
The present-day Sayuri, who is narrating and translating her story to the journalist in the United States, and the collective audience, is continually reminded that her fate in life is out of control. She uses the metaphor of waves rising in the ocean to describe the continuous change in her life. The “water” in her personality keeps her always moving, whether she wants to or not.
Waiting patiently doesn’t suit you. I can see you have a great deal of water in your personality. Water never waits. It changes shape and flows around things, and finds the secret paths no one else has thought about.
This quote comes from Sayuri’s mentor Mameha, the woman training Sayuri to become a full-fledged geisha. Golden, on a regular basis, will refer to the “water” in her personality and how it defines certain characteristics of her as an individual. Not only is Mameha teaching geisha apprentice Sayuri how to act and behave as a geisha, but is teaching her about her true self and what that means for her future identity.
Couldn’t the wrong sort of living turn anyone mean? I remembered very well that one day back in Yoroido, a boy pushed me into a thorn bush near the pond. By the time I clawed my way out I was mad enough to bite through wood. If a few minutes of suffering could make me so angry, what would years of it do? Even stone can be worn down with enough rain.
Golden was good with his descriptive imagery, creating a vivid scene with the simplest descriptors. The reader can easily understand Sayuri’s emotions when she’s referencing the time a young boy pushed her and the amount of sadness and grief she felt. Her reminiscing on the longevity of the anger and misery is also metaphoric (seen through the image of the stone worn down by rainfall). The constant water in her life, albeit good at times, has also worn her down.
In the instant before the door opened, I could almost sense my life expanding just like a river whose waters have begun to swell; for I had never before taken such a drastic step to change the course of my own future. I was like a child tiptoeing along a precipice overlooking the sea. And yet somehow I hadn’t imagined a great wave might come and strike me there, and wash everything away.
One of Golden’s better uses of the personification of water is to describe Sayuri’s life. She felt she was an ever-expanding river, closing in on a grand life, one that could be compared to the vastness of the ocean. Sayuri was too young of a child to fully understand the path she was about to be set upon. It was one she couldn’t control. The metaphor of a “great wave” striking her beautifully describes her lack of understanding of her situation.
After the success of the novel following its English release, Arthur Golden did a few interviews talking about his inspiration and motivation to write ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’ Besides this time period, from 1997-1999, and in 2005 when the film was released, Arthur Golden never spoke to the public. The success of his one-time novel was enough for him to, seemingly, step away from writing.
I met a fellow whose mother was a geisha, and I thought that was kind of fascinating and ended up reading about the subject just about the same time I was getting interested in writing fiction. And that led me to write a novel about a geisha.
When asked why he would write about a geisha and why in the first person, Golden describes a simple interaction in Tokyo with a stranger where he learns about his life and family. This spurred him on to write a fiction novel about a geisha woman. He recalls learning about this stranger’s mother (a geisha) and how she inspired him.
She took my understanding of a geisha’s daily existence and stood it on its head. I had to throw out my entire 800 page draft and start from scratch.
Golden’s initial understanding of geisha culture and tradition was discarded when he was introduced to Mineko Iwasaki, a former geisha who was very prominent in her time. This influenced him to toss away his initial 800-page draft and begin again with a new focus and point of view. He changed from a third-person perspective to a first-person one following the life of Sayuri.
I did draw on my knowledge of Mineko to create Sayuri. However, the story of Sayuri’s life in no way relates to Mineko’s. In fact, I’ve never asked Mineko anything beyond the most superficial questions about her history. I didn’t want to limit the possibilities that might suggest themselves to me as I tried to imagine Sayuri’s struggle.
Regarding the reviews and reception of the novel, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha‘ is very successful (especially in terms of the Western audience). But the Eastern audience, especially in Japan and China, did not favor his representation of their cultures in the book and the suggestion that geisha were more like prostitutes than anything else.
Certain critics and readers from Japan felt Golden misrepresented geisha tradition and culture with mistakes he made in regard to the truth of the rituals and traditions of geishas. The Chinese critics felt the book featured anti-China rhetoric and slander directed toward their government and traditions.
What is an important Arthur Golden quote?
An important Arthur Golden quote is: “As an American man of the 1990s writing about a Japanese woman of the 1930s, I needed to cross three cultural divides–man to woman, American to Japanese, and present to past.” Golden had difficulty bridging multiple cultural divides but managed to do so in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’ He did extensive research that lasted six years before finishing the novel.
What is Arthur Golden best known for?
Arthur Golden is best known for his famous novel, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’ It was an immediate success, landing him on the New York Times bestseller list for two years straight.
What genre does Arthur Golden write?
Golden wrote only one novel, a historical fiction book, in the first person perspective. His Japanese culture and historical background inspired him to write a novel about a fictional geisha.
What is Arthur Golden’s background in Japanese history?
Golden was first introduced to Japanese history while attending Harvard University, where he received a degree in Japanese art history. He then attended Columbia University, where he continued to study Japanese history and the Japanese language.