My love-hate relationship with Memoirs of a Geisha

I admit: I was very sceptical about this book before I actually dived in. I have heard many mixed reviews about Arthur Golden’s novel, and I really think it is an you-either-love-it-or-hate-it piece of literature. I decided to pick it up at the thrift store anyway, and to read it with a critical yet open mind.

I liked the book a lot better than I expected. The writing was beautiful and poignant yet really easy to understand. Golden touches on some more adult themes, like sex, in accurate and interesting perspectives. Sayuri, the protagonist, is an interesting girl, and I eventually learned to like her. I grew with Sayuri through her years of training and her career as a professional geisha. Yet, even with its beautiful writing, I can’t dismiss the many problems I had with this book.

Keep in mind that this is a work of fiction, and in no ways is an actual memoir. Arthur Golden is, after all, a white man writing from a perspective of a Japanese woman (granted he has lived in Japan for a while). The book is at best a romanticized piece of literature that is inaccurate as a whole. According to many news articles, the book is an insult to geisha and traditional Japanese culture. Golden only shadowed one geisha throughout his research, and even the geisha in question said that the book was hugely inaccurate.

Even after a week, I still have mixed feelings about the book. I feel guilty liking a book that is highly controversial yet highly praised. I will, however, give the book a solid 4.5/5 based on the writing and plot alone.