Memoirs Of A Geisha

ISBN: 0007229577
ISBN 13: 9780007229574
By: Arthur Golden

Check Price Now

Genres

Classics Currently Reading Favorites Favourites Fiction Historical Historical Fiction Japan Romance To Read

About this book

This seductive and evocative epic tells the extraordinary story of a geisha girl. It reveals the cruelty and ugliness of life behind the rice-paper screens, and summons up more than 20 years of Japan's most dramatic history.

Reader's Thoughts

Hannah

This book was well written, interesting, tasteful, and informative. It seems like the author really did his research. The culture of this book is what interested me the most. The role women played and their place in society. Although this is merely "based on actual events", I kind of took a lot of it as what really went on. I've always thought of a Geisha like a prostitute, not as a companion/entertainer. I never thought about it being a career that they would have had special schools for young girls to attend. I can't imagine being born into that life where from an early age that is what you are destined to do. But culturally, it was so glamorous and it was like wanting to be famous.Coming from her background, I can see why Sayuri would aspire to be a Geisha and feel it was out of reach. She was such a diverse character for me. I loved seeing her grow up and encounter all the human emotions and endure through them. It seemed as though she was a victim of cruelty, jealousy, and misery throughout the book, but in the end beat them all. She was a good person and I respected that she didn't let how people treated her affect who she became.

Denise

** spoiler alert ** Read it in four days, couldn't put it down. I had to keep remembering that it wasn't 100% true. But I think that it was as close as we could have gotten. Mineko - The geisha that Golden interviewed did a great job on educating him on the way of a Geisha according to a lecture he gave. I wasn't as shocked as everyone else seemed to be about the way things were in Japan. Women were not permitted to think or act for themselves. And just like everywhere else, there really wasn't any use for a daughter except to marry her off to a husband with money in hopes of securing future for the daughter's parents and family. There was also a strict code of honor and respect among geishas and the Japanese culture. That is what prevented Sayuri from acting out on Hatsumomo and why she couldn't reveal her feelings nor could the chairman disrespect his friend to be with Sayuri. I admired that about The Chairman and Sayuri, they did what they knew was right and did not follow their feelings. In the end, look where it got them. They were happy, growing old together, probably had a child, she lived peacefully and very well in New York taken care of until the day she died. I wonder what would have happened to Sayuri if she acted out and exchanged Hatsumomo's make-up with rat poison. More than likely, she would have been thrown out of the house and made into a prostitute until she died. In the end, Hatsumomo ended up suffering because she didn't follow the code of honor. Also, fate punished Sayuri for disobeying, when she tried to escape and fell off the roof and I'm sure that had an effect on her future decision makings.I wish that Sayuri was able to reunite with her sister but in a way I'm glad that they didn't and avoided the typical Hollywood ending. Sayuri reminded me a lot of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. She had her own way of seeing things but they were always clever and accurate. I loved the part when she says that her the back of her father's head was as old and his face but it was smooth like an egg, not deep set in wrinkles. There's living proof in every bald head of why stress and worry creates wrinkles in the face.Other characters: The Doctor - warped and twisted at least he was useful in help Mameha win the bet against Mother and secured Sayuri place in the house.The Baron - Hated that he hurt Mameha by going after Sayuri - His disrespectfulness got him in the end.The Chairman - A man that believed in honor and respect above all. And he was rewarded for it until his death.Nobu - Despite his rudeness and abruptness, he did care for Sayuri and made sure she was safe. I wish we learned what happened to him in the end but based on the pattern of the story those who lived with honor, died with honor.Mameha - Loved her, she was smart, sweet, strong - she didn't let anyone push her around and her subtleness was just as effective in getting what she wants as any man. Actually it was better because no one realized that they helped her so they never came back to be repaid.Pumpkin - Started out sweet and nice but finally acted out after years of betrayal. She was abused and used by Hatsumomo and the household, lied to about being adopted, forced to prostitution during the war. If Sayuri wasn't so wrapped up in her own issues she might have been able to see past herself and try to help Pumpkin more. Despite Pumpkin's betrayal to Sayuri, I hope she went against the pattern of the book and lived the rest of her years happily. Probably the smartest, after all, up until the end, Sayuri thought that Pumpkin made a mistake in bringing the Chairman to the theater instead of Nobu. Never thought that Pumpkin did it on purpose.http://www.randomhouse.com/vintage/re... - The official site about the bookhttp://www.theherald.org/issues/03089... - Recap of a lecture Arthur Golden gavehttp://www.cnn.com/books/dialogue/990... - Interview with Arthur Golden about the book.

Erin

oh blargh. you people.this is my re-review of memoirs. a remix review, if you will. review revitalized. memories of "memoirs". ooh that last one was kinda catchy...OKAY. on with things. reviewing and... such.i seem to find this book in the most unusual of places. before i explain aforementioned "oh, blargh. you people", you must know: the first time i discovered this book, i was in a used bookstore in Laos. some of you are well traveled, perhaps you've been. Vientiane. right next to the hungarian bakery in the center square that has a large sign on top featuring a jolly looking fat man whose smile has faded away a bit under the sun. yes? ok then.now, mind you, in this bookstore, there weren't very many books in english that weren't written by someone named "danielle steele". which reminds me, i must look this person up. i see her name everywhere. thousands of abandoned danielle steeles, stacked up in bookstores around the world, it's simply amazing. like a parasitic algae that thrives on dusty bookshelves and healthy, decent novels, suddenly appearing when you least expect it and obviously multiplying until it chokes out good literature. it makes me feel like a gardener every time i visit such a store, plucking shakespeares and silverstiens out of the shadows of the steeles and putting them back in their rightful place in the sun....that was a good one too. i think someone should take note of this. while you're at it, take down the recipe. it's TWO parts jack to ONE part dr. pepper. you may title it: recipe to success. under notes, please help me remember, perhaps a little notation like: "found to bring out the ernest hemingway of book reviewing". ah, goodreads on a saturday night. back to the review.here's what i wrote the last time. warning: it's kind of boring. you have permission to use the time you might have spent reading the next two paragraphs finding more dr. pepper."i read this while traveling through remote parts of southeast asia, so it should speak volumes that i was not distracted from this story in the least. i even rigged my flashlight to a seat during a midnight bus so that i could finish the part with the bidding war. i studied japan a lot in high school, but parts of this world were still knew to me, the details were so many. very good read, very culturally involved."OMG IT'S BORING ME AND I DIDN'T EVEN RE-READ IT, I JUST SKIMMED.This book was freaking awesome. Yeah, you know it was. You know why it's awesome, and you came here to sulk? Yeah, I said sulk. Stop looking at the screen all cross eyed that way. I re-read it the other day. Founda copy for fifty cents at goodwill (buried, i might add, under four multicolored danielle steeles). and after i read it, and came back to goodreads, and read other reviews, i decided it needs to be said:It's awesome because you couldn't stop thinking about it after you had read it. Yeah. A couple years after you read it, in fact. Every so often, perhaps for no reason at all, you got a glimpse of something that reminded you of the different layers of a kimono, or the pickled radish that a certain geisha liked to snack while reading her tabloids. you can't put a finger on it, but stacked in the thousands of memories that make up your soul, you count among the most satisfying the story of a geisha and a chairman. you would never, ever admit it, but you like this book because it has a happy ending. a nice ending. not perfect, like a fairy tale, but nice nonetheless. the geisha herself taught you that there are no perfect, happy endings, but that one can find happiness anyway.and you are angry that a man wrote it.oh blargh, you people. catty little comments like you are seriously pissed that golden put "memoir" in the title. like you didn't read "dear america diaries" and "american girl stories" when you were little and let your imagination pretend these girls like you were real.the reason people write stories is because they have a story to tell. and the best kind of writer is the person who has a story inside them that burns so brightly, and tugs at their soul nightly (OMG i am also rhyming. re-pour, please) that they toil over it, inject their passion and blood and sweat and tears, right into the pages.and golden has that passion. come on. the way the book reads is pure poetry. i thank my lucky stars i had an english teacher in high school who took us through 4 weeks of japanese poetry. how beautiful golden's descriptions. how perfectly crafted his comparisons. how touching and absorbing his characters. how riveting the plot. he clearly did his research, and styled the syntax and even the thought process of his characters as closest he could to the time they existed.he so obviously wanted us to love his geisha the way he did.and you criticize, like you weren't completely wound up in who would receive suyuri's virginity? like you didn't cringe when you discovered what became of pumpkin? like you didn't feel every betrayal and victory in the fantastic little world of the okiya golden created?you are simply angry she isn't real, not a flesh and blood soul who can return your adoration. oh. and--- did i mention this before? it was written by a man. a white dude. who couldn't POSSIBLY know about geisha. here's the thing, you weird feminist people who seem to be so hung up on golden "sashaying about, trying to pass off his novel as a memoir". obviously, if we were out, face to face, i would buy you one of these marvelously delicious concoctions i am sipping and we would duke it out like civilized bookworms. however, we lack a proper venue, so i've gotta say it here, without the benefit of you being slightly marinated (in order to better see my point). what would you rather have? a hundred danielle steeles, pooped out so rapidly they cannot be distinguished even by titles, haunting you at the bottom of every bargain bin in the world....?or the simply marvelously written, carefully crafted (if not, in fact, true) story of a woman (not just a geisha) who happens to be created by a man?that's what i thought. i'll drink to that.

Juushika

Memoirs of a Geisha is an American novel, and as such the attempt at West does East, especially on the complex and delicate subject of the geisha, is compelling, interesting, but also heavy-handed and ultimately ineffective (even more so in the case of the film). It is a wonderful introduction to geisha, Japanese culture, and the East for the uninitiated Western reader, and I can see why the book is popular, but I found it disappointing. For the reader already familiar with the culture, western influences are all too clear and the book comes off as a bit clunky and imperfect. I also had some problems with the general perception of the characters by readers versus the way the characters were actually portrayed in the book--Memoirs is far from the good-willed fairy tale that people assume it is. By all means, read it, but leave it open for critique and remember that a more authentic representation of eastern culture, especially in the details, will come from the east itself.A lot of my critique stems from the fact that this movie has attained such wide-spread fame and been made into a movie, to be sure. I feel like it is being perpetuated as something it is not. Even the introduction to the book (a faux translator's note) perpetuates the myth that Memoirs is an accurate, beautiful, in-depth reflection of the life of a geisha, when in truth it is no more that historical fiction and is written by an outsider. Golden has done his research and is well-educated on his subjects, and I have no problem with people reading from, taking interest in, and even learning from this book; I do, however, think it is important that readers don't conflate the American novel with Japanese reality. They aren't the same thing, no matter how much research Golden did, and if we take the book as an accurate representation we're actually underestimating and undervaluing geisha, Japan, and Japanese culture.Because Golden attempts to write from within the geisha culture, as a Japanese woman, he must do more than report the "facts" of that life--he must also pretend to be a part of it. Pretend he does, acting out a role as if he has studied inflection, script, and motivation. He certainly knows what makes writing "Japanese" but his attempt to mimic it is not entirely successful. The emphasis on elements, the independent sentences, the visual details are too prevalent and too obvious, as if Golden is trying to call our attention to them and thus to the Japanese style of the text. He does manage to draw attention, but to me, at least, what I came away with was the sense that Golden was an American trying really hard to sound Japanese--that is, the effect betrayed the attempt and the obvious attempt ruined the sincerity of the novel, for me. I felt like I was being smacked over the head with beauty! wood! water! kimono! haiku! and I felt insulted and disappointed.The problems that I saw in the text were certainly secondary to the purpose of the text: to entertain, to introduce Western readers to Japanese culture, and to sell books (and eventually a film). They may not be obvious to all readers and they aren't so sever that the book isn't worth reading. I just think readers need to keep in mind that what Golden writes is fiction. Historical fiction, yes, but still fiction, therefore we should look for a true representation of Japanese culture within Japanese culture itself and take Memoirs with a grain of salt.I also had problems with the rushed end of the book, the belief that Sayuri is a honest, good, modest, generous person when she really acts for herself and at harm to others throughout much of the book, the perpetuation of Hatsumomo as unjustified and cruel when she has all the reason in the world, and in general the public belief that Memoirs is some sort of fairy tale when in fact it is heavy-handed, biased, and takes a biased or unrelatistic view toward situations, characters, and love. However, all of those complains are secondary, in my view, to the major complain above, and should be come obvious to the reader.Memoirs goes quickly, is compelling, and makes a good read, and I don't want to sound too unreasonably harsh on it. However, I believe the book has a lot of faults that aren't widely acknowledged and I think we as readers need to keep them in mind. This is an imperfect Western book, and while it may be a fun or good book it is not Japanese, authentic, or entirely well done.

Shayantani Das

You know, I feel bad giving the book 2 stars. I am sure the author did a very hard job researching this stuff and all and the writing sure wasn’t bad. The narrative style and the simplicity of the book were okay. But, every moment I have spent reading this book, has annoyed me. So sorry Arthur Golden, 2 stars it is. Sayuri, the titular geisha, the oh-so charming girl, the narrator, was damn irritating. There is a literal bombardment of similes. One simple statement, which can be expressed just as simply has to be explained by comparing it to the hills or the sunset or the breeze blowing by or the river flowing by (you get the point). It felt very pretentious to me. Not a river really, more like an ocean, with its waves continuously crashing on the shore, destroying the sand castles of peace of mind (oooops! I caught the Sayuri syndrome). Also, major problem, CHAIRMAN, my dearest chairman, what does Sayuri see in you? I totally don’t get it. To devote one’s life to a man like him, eeks! He has set new standards of edwardishness (check out the ending of the book, you will know what I mean). That is not the way to treat a girl, as if she was a kind of birthday present. Nobu is just behind the chairman in the irritating character list. He is the biggest hypocrite in the book actually, because he pretends to not to be a hypocrite. In fact the only honest characters in the book were mother, Hatsumomo and pumpkin. They were bitches and they knew it. I don’t want to criticize this book so much and would like to stop here, but, I wasted my money on this book and it has made me regret it, so revenge time. THE CLIMAX ABSOLUTELY, ROYALLY SUCKED. One doesn’t just suffer from all that Sayuri went through and live happily ever after. This isn’t a Disney princess tale. It’s a tale of a geisha, and as Mameha puts it, one doesn’t become a geisha for fun, they do because they have no choice. The author absolutely ruined the book with the unrealistic ending. And no, it doesn’t end here, there is more. The book totally contradicts itself, it chants through out that a geisha is an artist not a prostitute, but Sayuri’s virginity is literally auctioned of. What’s more, this book is freaking historically inaccurate. I did some research and it turns out, mizuage was supposed to be more of a sweet 16 party, a change of hairstyle thing. And the geisha who was interviewed for this book even told the author so. So the changing of fact to make the story juicy was really slimy. Still, I guess many people might like it, so I am not really going to advice people against it(so what if I said all the things above), read at your own risk, it might change your life and you may end up thinking that this is the Japanese form of Titanic(sob, awwww, sob) and chairman is the dream come true.

Alena

Golden earns points for creativity, but loses them for inaccuracy.The "memoir" of the elegant Sayuri, whose life as a high-class geisha is disrupted by the outbreak of war, is written in an intriguing and alluring monologue -- purportedly narrated by Sayuri herself to the author -- that pulls the reader in from the very beginning. Unfortunately, the real narrator, Arthur Golden, took some dramatic liberties with history and cultural practices, and the fallacious elements sprinkled throughout detract from a potentially fascinating story. (This may not present a major issue to a reader who has no prior knowledge of Japanese culture, but such a reader should also be warned NOT to take this book as a factual representation of life in Japan.)Additionally, although the narrative starts strong, it loses momentum partway through the story. By the time the inevitable tremors of World War II began to shake the cultural bedrock of Japan, I was already beginning to lose interest in the artificial suspense.Overall, the book is written fairly well, and I can see why some readers would like it... but even while I was reading, I couldn't help feeling that I should have enjoyed it more.

Arah-Lynda

A beautiful, poingnant story that is so incredibly, lyrically captivating you are seduced from the very first word. An absolute work of art, each page overflows with beautiful, sensual, evocative images. Such is the skill and authority of Golden's writing, I feel as though I have spent hours, being entertained by the most gifted of all Geisha. Utterly Satisfying. I want to read it again for the very first time!

Liz Lynch

Like eating fancy dessert at a gourmet restaurant, Memoirs of a Geisha is beautiful, melts lightly off the tongue and will be forgotten shortly after it's done. The language is strikingly lovely, and Golden paints a remarkable picture of a time and place. If you're looking to learn something deep about the psychology of Japanese culture, or meet nuanced characters, then I'd steer you elsewhere. The story only skims the top of the more complicated aspects of a Japan in decline, focusing mostly on a genteel lifestyle that probably seems more appealing from the outside. There's a way in which the book, written by a man and a westerner, is slightly fetishistic, but less so than you might imagine.Another reader suggested that perhaps the superficiality of the story is intentional, and that the book, in a way, resembles a geisha. Beautiful and eager to please, yet too distant to really learn much from and ultimately little more than a beautiful, well-crafted object to be appreciated. If that's the case, Arthur Golden is remarkably clever, and I applaud him. If it's not the case, the book remains very pretty and an easy read.

midnightfaerie

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden was phenomenal. One of my book clubs picked it this month and I just saw the selection and realized I owned it and it was already on my list but didn't think I'd have time to read it in the next two weeks. But just for the heck of it, I picked it up and decided to just read the first chapter to see how I liked it. It took me less than three days to finish it. I absolutely loved this book. It was well written and gave an eloquent and sometime graphic portrayal of the lifestyle of a geisha. It was fascinating to learn about the culture through the eyes of this young girl. The way Golden describes the Japanese world is easy to picture and completely draws you in. You find yourself rooting for this girl as her life hits one roadblock after another. His beautiful descriptions of the setting and clothes is enough of a reason to read this book, but it offers so much more as well. I do think this is classic material. Although published not too long ago I think it has the potential to be around for awhile, therefore falling under the longevity category. I also think it's an original concept. Many books touch upon the culture and classes of the Japanese, but I'm unaware of one that writes about the taboo intimacies of a geisha. If there are, I'd have to read them, but I think this book is original enough to be the leader of that group. I also think it has the magic factor. The descriptions of the era, the dress, and especially the differences in facial features of the characters pull you into the story effortlessly. I highly recommend it and believe it's a classic, if not now, then one in the making. As for the movie, I have mixed opinions. When I first saw it years ago before reading the book, I thought it was lovely and moving. Since I just finished the book I decided to watch it again. Once again, I feel like a movie pales in comparison to the book, lacking in definition and finesse. Yes, it's good for what it is, and the actors they choose to play the parts did exceedingly well, but I found myself dictating constantly to my husband who was watching with me, parts that were never explained. Things like why they spark a flint at a geisha's back before they leave the okiya or why the girls had they hands frozen numb while they practiced the shamisen. To me this was imperative in experiencing the richness that all the culture had to offer. But alas, it's the downfall of a movie representing a book. They can't put everything in so you just have to enjoy it for what it is. That being the case, it was an adequate representation of the book, with talented actors playing the parts well. ClassicsDefined.com

Heather

I love it when a book I’ve been super excited to read turns out to be a new favorite! That doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often as I’d like, but was definitely the case for me with Memoirs of a Geisha. This was such a beautiful story and I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. It had such a soft, gentle feeling atmosphere, and yet it was also intense, albeit a quiet intensity, if that makes sense. By the halfway point, I had the hardest time tearing myself away from it and would sneak in every spare minute I could to read more. It speaks volumes for a book if I’m able to tune out all the craziness around me (hello…3 and 9 year old boys!) and be totally immersed in it, despite all the background noise. And Memoirs succeeded in doing that! I know next to nothing about Japanese culture, so this was a really new, insightful experience for me. I found that I had some misconceptions about the role of a geisha. That whole world is quite intriguing and I was surprised to learn all that is involved in becoming one. I especially loved reading the descriptions for the exquisite kimono they wear and the process they go through to dress and do their hair and makeup. So much time and effort is poured into their appearance, and the end result is stunning! I loved so many things about this book…the way it was written, the overall feel of the story, and then of course, the story itself. It flowed along so smoothly and beautifully, and carried me right along with it. I enjoyed so much listening to Sayuri tell us her story, and going on that journey with her back through her life. I couldn’t have been happier with how her story played out in the end, and I even read the last part of it through teary eyes. This was a wonderful book, and one that I know I’ll read again someday.

Marianne

I read this lovely novel on the plane home from Japan, finishing it upon my return to the US. I was surprised - given that it was written by a Western man - how accurately the Japanese culture was portrayed (at least from the limited knowledge I gleaned during my short time living there, and given that it was set in a time when Japan was, in many ways, very different from today).Perhaps it was because I'd just left this beautiful country, but I was clearly able to imagine the vivid depictions described by Chiyo/Sayuri. When I was in Kyoto, my friends and I were lucky enough to see a maiko-san walking back to her okiya (a relatively rare event these days), and I will forever associate my memory of that elegant young girl with this book.All of that said, if the author did violate a confidentiality agreement with his primary source, it is abhorrent that he did so. He allegedly also embellished the truth of certain aspects of life as a geisha, which is disappointing; and yet many authors take artistic license. Whether 100% accurate or not, the story is poetic as a work of fiction.

Zara Aimaq

I first read this book in high school, and although I remember liking it, I don't think I was paying very much attention because I seriously thought the book was just about a bunch of Japanese hookers. But I reread it a few weeks ago, and I loved the story. Memoirs is about the life of this peasanth girl, Sayuri, in pre and post-WW2 Japan who is sold into life as an apprentive Geisha, and then ultimately, an actual Geisha. The novel is full of these really great, vivid details of a variety of characters: gorgeous but evil rivals, the heinous older ladies who run the Geisha houses and practically enslave these girls, and the Geishas' patrons. Readers discover the world of the Geisha through the eyes of Sayuri, as she struggles to find her place in this society and at the same time, follow her heart(very cliche, I know, but I don't want to give away the story!). So the Geisha are women in Japan who are trained in the arts - playing music, dancing, acting, performing tea ceremonies, etc. They make their living entertaining wealthy Japanese men (business men, doctors, political figures), usually in large groups, in tea houses. In pretty rare cases, some of the most popular Geisha undergo a binding ceremony where the geisha is hooked up for life with a Dannah- a very wealthy man who supports her and takes care of her, in exchange for intimacy with her. There are some pretty disgusting scenarios in the book where they just come off like highly-paid prostitutes, but for the most part, the girls in the book are very colorful, strong-willed, and interesting. It's just a very fascinating look into old Japanese culture.

Jessica

I can't remember what made me pick up this book -- it must have been that edition's cover, which was highly gorgeous: bright bright white with big red geisha lips. I think part of me wanted to be above this kind of thing, but you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Memoirs of a Geisha was a fairytale in novel form, and completely absorbing even when it got slightly ridiculous. It's one of those chocolate cake kind of books, descriptively rich, demanding your full attention and almost too sweet but ultimately a great, sticky pleasure.I finished it one night in a loud, fetive metal bar, and if that doesn't recommend a story to you, I don't know what would. It was the dead of winter, Lindsey was visiting from California, and we were really going nuts out there in Brooklyn, since we hadn't seen each other in ages. Although we were both enjoying the attention, finally I had to leave Lindsey alone at a table with about six enthusiastic long-haired, thickly-tattooed sweethearts while I crept off to a dim corner and finished the last few chapters of this book. Seriously, Lindsey took a picture of me crouched at a table by myself, where every once in awhile someone in a tight vinyl bondage outfit or gory tee shirt would come up and demand to know what I was reading. Finally I wrapped it up and returned to the socializing, and the rest of the night? Well, that's a story of its own, and not a chocolate cake one.

Mashael Alamri

حينما تجبرنا الحياة على سلوك طريق واحد وتختفي الخيارات نكون مثل الذي تربطه الأيام بخيط وتجره بإتجاه معين دون أن يكون له قرار سوى التأمل لكل ما يمر من جانبه التجربه الإنسانية تأسرني أيً كانت فالحديث عن حياة بآئسه تترك فيّ الكثير من الأثر إستوقفتني الرواية كنت أتأمل كثيراً كيف لطفله أن تنتزع من مكانها وتباع كيف لها أن تتدبر أمرها ؟ ربما يكون الفقر وخوف والدها عليها هو مادعاه للموافقه على بيعها ربما فعل ذلك من يئسه ,لكن الوحده التي إستحالت حياتها إليها قاتله , لكن شيو -شان حولت الوحده وتبعاتها لحافز للنجاح والوصول في مقايسي أنها نجحت وخرجت من حياة اللاشيء ,هذا ماخطر ببالي لحظة إنتهائي منها !

Jeffrey Keeten

”Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper. “ Geisha Mineko Iwasaki basis for Chiyo/Sayori.Chiyo, with her sister Satsu, and her mother and father live in a shack by the sea on the coast of Japan. The shack leans, and has to be propped up to keep from total collapse. Her mother is sick and on the verge of death. Her father is a fisherman, uneducated, and generally befuddled by anything that doesn’t have to do with his fishing nets. When a businessman from the village comes to them with an offer to take their girls to the city it doesn’t take much to convince the father that nearly any opportunity is better than staying there in the tilted shack by the sea. He was wrong. Or was he? Without a crystal ball or access to a series of timelines showing the variations created by changing key decisions at critical junctures how can we know? Satsu, who is fifteen, is promptly placed with a brothel. Not exactly what her father had in mind. I’m sure he was told she would be trained for “domestic service”. Chiyo, who is nine, is deemed young enough to be trained to be a geisha. She is a lovely child with startling rare gray/blue eyes. Those Blue Eyes are what set her apart.The Mother of her geisha house is equally startling in appearance. ”Instead of being white and clear, the whites of her eyes had a hideous yellow cast, and made me think at once of a toilet into which someone had just urinated. They were rimmed with the raw lip of her lids, in which a cloudy moisture was pooled, and all around them the skin was sagging.”Obvious a bit of a failing liver issue going on here, but wait she is really much more mugly. ”I drew my eyes downward as far as her mouth, which still hung open. The colors of her face were all mixed up: the rims of her eyelids were red like meat, and her gums and tongue were gray. And to make things more horrible, each of her lower teeth seemed to be anchored in a little pool of blood at the gums.” Okay so Chiyo lets out a gasp. She starts out her new life in trouble. It doesn’t end there. She is quickly considered a threat to the lovely and vindictive Hatsumomo who is the only fully trained geisha working for the house. Chiyo is accused of stealing (not true). She is accused of ruining an expensive kimono with ink (true but under duress). She is caught trying to escape ( she broke her arm in the process so try and give the kid a break). Well, all of this ends up costing her two years working as a housemaid when she could have been training as a geisha. She receives an unexpected benefactress, a mortal enemy of Hatsumomo named Mameha decides to take Chiyo under her wing and insure that she has another opportunity to become a geisha. Chiyo, tired of scrubbing floors and being the do-this and do-that girl of the household realizes her best chance at some form of freedom is to elevate herself. The Movie based on this book was released in 2005 and directed by Rob Marshall.At age 15 her virginity or mizuage is put up for auction. It is hard not to think of this as a barbaric custom, but for a geisha, if a bidding war erupts, she can earn enough money to pay off all the debts that have accumulated for her training. Chiyo, now called Sayuri, is fortunate to have two prominent men wanting to harvest her flower. The winner is Dr. Crab who paid a record amount for the privilege.”Of course his name wasn’t really Dr. Crab, but if you’d seen him I’m sure the same name would have occurred to you, because he had his shoulders hunched up and his elbows sticking out so much, he couldn’t have done a better imitation of a crab if he’d made a study of it. He even led with one shoulder when he walked, just like a crab moving along sideways.”Not the vision that any girl would have for her first time, but ultimately it is a business transaction that frees Sayori from the bonds of debt. After the deed is done, the eel spit in the cave, Dr. Crab brought out a kit filled with bottles that would have made Dexter jealous. Each bottle has a blood sample, soaked in a cotton ball or a piece of towel of every geisha he has ever treated including the blood from his couplings for their virginity. He cuts a piece of blood soaked towel that was under Sayori and added it to the bottle with her name. Ewwehhh! with a head snapping *shiver*.The cultural obsession, every country seems to have one, with female virginity is simply pathological. Girls can’t help, but be fearful of the process. Not strapped to a table by a serial killer type fear, but still there has to be that underlying hum as the man prepares to enter her. I wonder if men, especially those who avidly pursue the deflowering of maidens, are getting off on that fear? I’ve made myself feel a little queasy now. Sayori is on her way to a successful career. She is in love with a man called The Chairman and wishes that he will become her danna, a patron, who can afford to keep a geisha as a mistress. There are people in the way, keeping them from being together, and so even though there were many geishas who wished for her level of success she still couldn’t help feeling sad. ”And then I became aware of all the magnificent silk wrapped about my body, and had the feeling I might drown in beauty. At that moment, beauty itself struck me as a kind of painful melancholy. “It was fascinating watching this young girl grow up in such a controlling environment; and yet, a system that can also be very deadly. One misstep, one bit of scandal, and many geishas found themselves ostracized by the community. They could very easily find themselves in a brothel. During WW2 the geisha community was disbanded, and the girls had to find work elsewhere. Sayori was fortunate. Despite all the hardships I know she was enduring, Arthur Golden chose not to dwell on them in great detail. I was surprised by this because authors usually want and need to press home those poignant moments, so that when the character emerges from the depths of despair the reader can have a heady emotional response to triumph over tragedy. I really did feel like I was sitting down for tea with Sayori, many years later, and she, as a way of entertaining me, was telling me her life story. Golden interviewed a retired geisha by the name of Mineko Iwasaki who later sued him for using too much of her life story to produce this book. She even had blue eyes. I wonder if Iwasaki was still the perfect geisha, keeping her story uplifting, and glossing over the aspects that could make her company uncomfortable. Mineko IwasakiThe book is listed in the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It was also made into a film, which I’ve been avoiding, knowing that I wanted to read the book first. I notice some reviewers take issue with Sayori. They feel she did not assert herself, and take control of her life. She does in the end, but she is patient, and waits for a moment when she can predict the outcome. I feel that she did what she needed to do to survive. Most of the time she enjoyed being a geisha. It takes a long time to learn not only the ways to entertain, but also all the rigid traditions that must be understood to be a successful geisha. As she gets older, and can clearly define the pitfalls of her actions, we see her manipulating the system in her favor.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *