Memoirs of a Geisha by Arther Golden is a historical fiction novel that popularized what a geisha was worldwide. The novel went on to sell millions but it has had its own controversies and lawsuits. Keep reading for a brief summary as well as the drama that followed.
Memoirs of a Geisha Summary
Nine-year old Chiyo Sakamoto and her older sister are sold by their father to strangers. They go from living in a coastal fishing village in Japan to being taken to Kyoto. When Chiyo arrives, she is taken to a geisha boarding house and is told she is going to be trained to be a geisha.
Choyo meets her new family Auntie, Mother, who is Auntie’s sister, and Hatsumomo, the elder geisha that lives in the house. Hatsumomo instantly dislikes Choyo and makes her life miserable. Whether Choyo likes it or not, she is now a part of this world and must learn how to survive with them.
As Choyo is raised to be geisha, we are shown the rituals she has to follow. And we are shown how influential and popular geisha are in Japan. They are summoned and dine with the upper echelon of Japan. Through Choyo’s eyes, we get a first hand account of the wild life of a geisha and more interestingly, Choyo’s.
While the novel is fiction, Golden did interview a geisha for background information. But even then, this book exaggerates the life of a geisha. The original geisha that Golden used for background information, Mineko Iwasaki, wrote her own novel which was very different from Golden’s novel. She went on to say that she didn’t like how Golden portrayed geisha in his novel.
Iwasaki sued Arthur Golden for breach of contract and defamation because he had agreed to protect her anonymity but he listed Iwasaki as a source in the acknowledgement for the novel. She faced a lot backlash and even received death threats because of Golden’s actions. In 2003, Golden’s published settled out of court with Iwasaki.
Golden comes off as horrible for his actions and exaggerating the life of a geisha. The novel is phenomenal because he had someone that had firsthand accounts and yet he abused the geisha’s trust and twisted her story. It is no wonder Iwasaki wrote an autobiography of her life. But it hasn’t had the same level of success as this novel and many people do not even know of Iwasaki’s trials and tribulations.
It may not be accurate but it is a great novel nonetheless. Both of those things can be true. Golden’s novel has become a household name but that should be used as a starting point for many people to learn more about a geisha and what they actually went through. That is why I still recommend this book even with Golden’s flaws. happy reading