Standing inside Arthur Golden’s Victorian house, it’s easy to assume he purchased this striking, teal-colored Brookline home, with its stained-glass windows and stately oak stairway, wainscoting, and trim, after the enormous success of his 1997 novel “Memoirs of a Geisha.” To the contrary, however: The 44-year-old Golden and his wife, Trudy, bought it 17 years ago.
The front doorbell is the original pull style, which Golden said he had to wrest from the electrician who had removed it to keep for himself. In the front entrance stands a large, round swivel table that belonged to Golden’s grandmother but seems as though it were made for this house. To the left is his library, formerly the front parlor, one of several rooms that looks like a page out of a decorating magazine. He settles his lean frame onto a couch, places his feet on a massive ottoman, and invites a visitor to do the same.
This is classic Golden, whose ideal way of relaxing is “sitting in front of a fire, reading a novel,” or lying in a hammock on vacation with his family in St. Vincent, which he did over Christmas. On book tours, his favorite moments were in his hotel room “having a cheeseburger and a beer, watching a movie, and just relaxing.”
Golden is a Harvard and Columbia graduate and a member of the Sulzberger family that controls the New York Times, and, by extension, The Boston Globe. (“So let’s just say that I wasn’t going to starve to death if my novel didn’t sell well,” he wrote in an e-mail earlier this week from Amsterdam, where he was doing some research.) He wrote his novel about a geisha in the first person as though it were her story. Published by Knopf, it has sold 4 million copies in English, been translated into 32 languages, and was on the New York Times best-seller list for over 100 weeks. Soon, “Memoirs” will be made into a film directed by Steven Spielberg.
Ask how the movie is coming, and the reply is as concise and casual as the crisp jeans and European pullover he wears: “I think they’re waiting for a new screenplay. Other than that, I know nothing. People imagine I spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about the movie, but I don’t.”
Someday, he said, he will complete his second novel, which he avoids discussing. For now, life is good.
“I’m very happily married,” he said, adding that he and Trudy, married 19 years, see each other a lot during the day, and “I like that.” He works in a third-floor office; Trudy paints nearby in her studio.
The family of four, including a son, 16, and a daughter, 13, travels frequently. They have been to the Czech Republic, France, England, Morocco, the Caribbean, Japan, and around the United States.
When traveling around the world, it helps that Golden speaks Japanese (“rusty”), Chinese (“rustier”), French (“can stumble my way through if people are patient”), and Italian (“brushing up for an upcoming trip”). The house is full of souvenirs: two large, colorful puppets from the Czech Republic, a blue and white glass bowl from Japan, more pottery from Morocco.
Nothing, however, animates him as does his new puppy, Ellie, a 10-month-old Norfolk terrier. “I’m the one who wanted a dog,” he says. “Trudy was fine with it, as long as I was to be the `mommy.’ ” As though demonstrating, he asks Ellie to sit, and she does.
“People harbor the illusion that after something like this happens, life will change for the better,” he says, referring to the success of his book. “But what you really hope for is to have had a life before that you wouldn’t want to see change. That’s what I had, happily, and still do.