Memoirs of a Geisha Book Cover

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 1997
Summary: At the age of nine, Chiyo Sakamoto is taken from her home and sold to an okiya in Gion, Kyoto’s most prominent geisha district. She enters a world where women are trained to charm powerful men, their virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder, and love is a scorned illusion.

Second Time Around

The first time I read Memoirs of a Geisha, I enjoyed it so much that after I finished the book, I went to the nearest Walmart and bought Memoirs of a Geisha on DVD. I needed and wanted to see the beautiful story I just read come to fruition, but to say I was disappointed by what unfolded is the understatement of the century. What happened the second time around? Well, this time around, I knew what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know how I would feel about the book, but I knew the movie would be straight trash. Plus, this time around, I would have to somehow put my feelings into words, so I could share those feelings with you. Well, this time around, the book did not have the magical sparkle that I remembered after the first read. I think that has more to do with learning about the controversy surrounding the novel. Also, I am less forgiving of books written about people and cultures of which the writer is an outsider not only being published but having praise and acclaim thrusted upon it. This is especially an issue when #ownvoices authors do not have the same opportunities to write their stories. However, despite those feelings, I still enjoyed the book as a fictionalized story of life as a geisha, even though it took more than a minute to get there, and it was obviously written for Westerners who are not familiar with geisha culture.

Lost in Translation

Even if I wasn’t as memorized with the “memoirs” of a geisha named Sayuri, I can without a doubt say that the movie was a horrible adaptation. I’m not even talking about the controversy surrounding the use of Chinese actresses to play Japanese geisha. I’m talking about the absurd and convoluted supposed love story they created out of thin air. Yes, Sayuri felt a strong affection toward the Chairman thanks to his kindness during one of her lowest moments, but the movie built it up as some kind of lifelong obsession. It was more than annoying because Sayuri wanted to become a geisha to hopefully meet the Chairman again, but the point was she wanted to be a geisha. The movie seemed to forget that part. Instead, it gave us more meet-cutes between Sayuri and the Chairman in the movie than what happened in the book to try to convince us of their growing love. The romance was forced and tortured, and the movie tried way too hard to make their love story more believable. It didn’t work for me, and it presented Sayuri as a one-dimensional character.

Overall Opinion

The book is okay, but definitely doesn’t deserve the acclaim it has received. However, the movie is an abomination of storytelling. If you are a fan of the book, then the movie is definitely not for you.

The Final Grade

Laborious Literature: Not only is the book problematic, it is also a slow read. It took over a month to finish the book even though I was on vacation for a week. However, once the story got going, the book became more enjoyable, but it took a while to get there.

Burnt Popcorn: The movie felt rushed, even with a 150-minute running time. In that time, it also managed to change pivotal parts of the story to make the movie more dramatic, but those changes diminished the story.

Your Turn

So…have you read Memoirs of a Geisha? Have you seen the movie? How would you rate the adaptation? Let us know in the comments! |RL

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  1. I remember feeling totally drawn into the book and the world of the geisha it paints the first time I read it, and now that I think about it, it’s been a long time – I’m curious to see how it would stand up to another reading.

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