Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

(Photo taken from Amazon)

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden
Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries
Language: English
ISBN - 10: 0679781587
ISBN - 13: 978-0679781585

I did a survey in a public chat room and asked them if they know about Memoirs of a Geisha. There were 26 chatters at that time, excluding me, and 19 of them said that they watched the movie. Sadly, only 6 of that 19 know that the movie was actually based on a book written by Arthur Golden. All 26 of those chatters believe geishas to be the same with prostitutes.

The story is about a young girl from a small fishing village in Japan who was taken from her home to become a geisha. This story focuses on her training and growth as a novice, to a full-fledged geisha torn between accepting her fate and following her heart.

I was thrilled when I learned that a movie would be based on one of my favorite books. So, to review this book, I decided to compare it with the film adaptation. In a way, I am also reviewing the movie. Two birds with one stone!

The movie:
  1. Fast-paced, but missed a lot of significant details. I understand though, that you cannot cram several years' worth of geisha training in an hour and a half film, but the result felt flat and skippy, like I was fast forwarding the film.
  2. The character of the villain Hatsumomo was portrayed to be younger than Sayuri's "older sister" Mameha, and the competition was more focused between Sayuri and Hatsumomo, than Mameha and Hatsumomo in the book. This gave the character of the villain a better explanation on why she treats Sayuri as she does.
  3. The Chairman's character felt hollow. The romance between him and Sayuri felt forced.
  4. The visuals of the movie was very reminiscent of the old Japan, though from what I imagined while reading the book, I thought it would have been better.
  5. The film could have gained more credibility if they starred Japanese actors for the role. I have nothing against the actors who got the roles though, I just thought that the nuances and mannerisms that are uniquely Japanese could have been portrayed better.
The book:
  1. In my opinion the book, contrary to some friends of mine who opined that it was too slow and verbose, was well-paced. It was able to provide a detailed description of every event/character/whatever needed to be described that you can visualize it for yourself, without being overwhelming. It made me feel "at home."
  2. The characters were well-drawn and were each given their unique features: Sayuri with her blue-gray eyes, Mameha with her perfectly-oval face, Hatsumomo with her beauty and malice, and so forth. I like that everything about each character had an underlying reason. I totally hated Hatsumomo and Mother.
  3. The romance between Sayuri and the Chairman went through different stages: The first fatherly, the next friendly, and last, romantically. Although it was expected, I was not very prepared for what would happen between them, as well as the secret that the Chairman would reveal to Sayuri that would help her look at certain things differently.
  4. I love how the author really did comprehensive research for this book to be authentic and unique from other geisha-related novels. The imagery was exquisite, and the tone was idyllic, even at its most intense.
  5. The novel is not only moving, but also provides a lot of insight into Japanese history, as well as the role of geishas in the society. According to the novel, the word "geisha" does not mean "prostitute," as Westerners ignorantly assume - it means "artisan" or "artist." And this book proves that.
Obviously, I favor the book more than the movie. I hope that future film adaptations would be better. But until then, or even then, I would still stick to the book, the original version.


  1. Hi! I haven't read this one but if i can get a copy for a cheap price, then i'll buy it. lol. i've watched the movie and i think it was okay. based on your review, the book seems like a good read. :-)

  2. I've seen the movie, but I wanted to read the book... it's on my list! :)

  3. I watched the movie version and there was like, just six of us inside the theater. Six! Maybe that was why I didn't like it much. I kept looking over my shoulder or around me, very paranoid like.

    But the book is definitely way better.

  4. I'm listening to this on audio now ... how coincidental! (This is one of the things I love about the book blogging community ... you can always find someone who has read or is reading the same book as you are!:)

    russel of DFW Spine & Joint Center


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