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6 Books like Memoirs of a Geisha to Lose Yourself In

Jane Howarth itcherEmpress Orchid, Geisha: A Life and The Constant Princess are a few of the epic historical novels Memoirs of a Geisha readers will want to immerse themselves in. ~ Jane Howarth

When I searched for good books like Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden, 1997) I came across a fair few books about geisha life and Japanese culture, and while I’m actually pretty interested in both, they’re not quite what I had in mind.

But I knew exactly which books I wanted to share with other readers in my situation.


What Books Are Similar to Memoirs of a Geisha?

Memoirs of a Geisha was the kind of book I wanted to devour in one sitting – a novel that charts a fascinating life inside a tough world.

If you’re looking for an alternative, I think these books come pretty close.

‘Empress Orchid’ (Anchee Min, 2004) and ‘The Last Empress’ (Anchee Min, 2007)
Empress Orchid Anchee Min, 2004
Image source: twoamericansinchina

Anchee Min’s two-part account of the life of China’s last empress takes us inside the Forbidden City.

In Empress Orchid, we meet a poor girl from a hard-working family who have the chance to promote their daughter to greatness as an imperial consort.

At points, the brutality behind such an elegant lifestyle is horrifying – if the novel was entirely fictional, you could criticise the author for going to extremes.

A near perfect match, telling the story of a sealed world filled with treachery – but also with prestige and extreme beauty.

‘Geisha: A Life’ (Mineko Iwesawa, 2002)
Geisha: A Life' (Mineko Iwesawa, 2002)
Image source: thejapans

Mineko Iwesawa was interviewed by Arthur Golden as a source for his novel, under a promise of anonymity.

She later took him to court, alleging that she had been openly linked to both the truths she shared and fictional events.

In her own biography, the former geisha emphasises the differences between the sexualised portrayal of her profession and the reality – and in later years it was a glamorous reality.


The biography of Memoirs’ source shows her life through a different lens – in other words, the storytelling is very different, but as a fan of the novel it’s hard not to be fascinated.

‘The Constant Princess’ (Philippa Gregory, 2005)
'The Constant Princess' (Philippa Gregory, 2005
Image source: booktopia

Covering the early life of Catherine of Aragon, or Infanta Catalina, Philippa Gregory recounts the princess’s training for a reign that would never materialise.

After the death of her first husband, a second chance materialises – marriage to the future King Henry VIII.

Like Arthur Golden’s novel, The Constant Princess spans years of the heroine’s life, and in a similar way, we’re following a heroine who is trying to reshape her life in spite of a rigid structure.

In Gregory’s book, Catherine of Aragon shares some of Chiyo’s sense of ambition and disappointment, albeit with a touch of reversal, as she descends from high status to poverty.

‘Falling Leaves’ (Adeline Yen Mah, 1997)
Falling Leaves' (Adeline Yen Mah)
Image source: My EALD Archive

Later adapted for younger readers, Falling Leaves tells the true story of the author’s life in wartime China.

Despite a privileged upbringing, like the heroine of Memoirs of a Geisha she was subject to hardship and ill treatment.

It doesn’t shy away from harsh realities, and though the book isn’t too long, it spans so many years that it generates the feeling of an epic.

Like Memoirs, Falling Leaves offers a glimpse of another culture along with a tale of adversity – this time based on a true story.


If You like Memoirs of a Geisha You Will like…

One of these books is set more recently, the other much further back in the past and is completely fictional, but I couldn’t put either of them down.

‘Girl in Translation’ (Jean Kwok, 2010)
Girl in Translation' (Jean Kwok, 2010)
Image source: goodreads

Set in the New York of the past few decades, Girl in Translation follows an immigrant girl who finds herself caught between American life, the Chinese community’s expectations and her family’s extreme poverty.

Like Memoirs, this is a fictional book grounded in real life. The author herself grew up in poverty, part of an immigrant family working in Chinatown’s factories.

At times the heroine’s life seemed impossibly difficult, but as in Memoirs, the story is infused with moments of hope.

I didn’t know what to expect when I first picked up this book, but once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.

Though Girl in Translation’s Chinatown tale can’t claim the mystique of the geisha lifestyle, forbidden loves, complex lives and culture clash form the basis of both novels.

‘Holy Fools’ (Joanna Harris, 2001)
Holy Fools' (Joanna Harris, 2001)
Image source: pagepulp

In 17th Century France, travelling dancer and natural rebel Juliette (is she a past incarnation of Vianne, I wonder?) finds her path intertwined with a dangerous fellow performer.

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, has herself noted that there’s more darkness in her books than she is given credit for, so while you shouldn’t expect Holy Fools to be a heart rending epic on the scale of Memoirs of a Geisha, I think you’ll find it hard to put down.


Like Chiyo, Juliette is tormented by both a life she didn’t choose and the decisions she’s made since – and while the settings are very different, the social constrictions are more similar than you might imagine.


Why Are These Novels Impossible to Put Down?

For me, part of what makes these books so compelling is that they take us through so much of the characters’ lives.

Not only does it allow us to see into a different world, it lets us discover it with a heroine who is learning to understand her own life.

Looking for more movies like the adaptation?

I just love Paola’s suggestions, and I think you will too.

What Would You Recommend?

Do you have any great recommendations for books to read if you like Memoirs of a Geisha?

Help other readers to find them by sharing your picks in the comments.


Hi, I’m Jane, BA (Drama, Film and TV) and MA (Cultural and Creative Industries). When I’m not writing about creative things, I’m designing or planning them. If you’re brave enough to risk an avalanche, look behind the stacks of books and DVDs and you’ll find me balancing a cup of tea, a handful of knitting and a cupcake.
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