I did enjoy this book, I really did. But I have a lot more complaints than praise. There's always going to be a certain degree of "ugh" about a white guy from Tennessee thinking they're qualified to write about being a Japanese geisha because they took some Japanese history courses in university. I'm never going to fully support stories about women, about minority races, about foreign cultures told by the ultimate majority - a white, well educated, American man. It happens far too often, and is often skewed in such a way to benefit (or gloss over the inherent privilege, or the inherent abuse inflicted by) the white-american-male. Not to mention it silences ACTUAL women, ACTUAL members of these minority groups and prohibits them from telling their own stories. Do you think an actual geisha trying to write her real memoirs would be as well received and commercially popular as Arthur Golden's fictionalized version?? No. It probably wouldn't even get a major publisher.
My feelings on white men co-opting the stories of minorities for their own financial (or artistic in this case, the book received much praise) obviously affected my reading experience and was hard to look past and enjoy the book. I'm aware the narrative is first person, but anytime geishas or the Japanese were referred to as "we", I became hyper aware that a guy from Tennessee wrote this. When talking about WWII and it's effect on the Japanese geisha districts (and Japan in general), atrocities committed by America were so largely glossed over. America was barely mentioned as the enemy. Hiroshima was mentioned in a sentence. Yet post-American invasion, the American soldiers were described as "nice" (they're not) and not at all people who "killed and raped" the Japanese (they were). When the protagonist Sayuri attends a party with American soldiers, she's shocked by how personable and way more fun than Japanese men they were, and how they all got along so wonderfully despite their language barrier. That just reeks of bullshit to me. Of romanticized bullshit by a white, male American with no real gauge of how vile America is regarding foreign policy or all the irredeemable shit they pulled on Japan during WWII.
Besides my political aversion to pretty much everything this book is, it's an ok read. A decent story. It's not actually incredibly well written. The abundant similes sprinkled generously throughout as an attempt at depth and eloquence were actually kind of dumb and heavy handed. The plot itself was scattered and met a really slapdash end. The actual exploration of geisha life was superficial at best, and character development was... not great (Sayuri was basically a Mary Sue, and even when her flaws and mistakes were pointed out to her, they were written off as more revealing of the negative character traits of those pointing them out to her). It's an ok light read, but quite clearly Arthur Golden showing off everything he knows about Japan and a conversation he had with a former geisha one time.
I've done a bit of trashing of Arthur Golden in this... am I not abiding by GR's new review policies?? Who knows?