Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden

Rating out of 5:
Reviewed by: Diana Livingston
Date: 2011-05-18

Hanae Livingston


Mrs. Jones Period 5 English

Memoirs of a Geisha portrays the story of Chiyo Sakamoto,  a nine-year-old girl from the poor fishing village Yoroido on the coast of Japan, the obstacles she overcomes and the risks she takes to make her way through life and to her destiny. The day a doctor pronounces her mother almost dead, Chiyo’s father sells her and her sister into slavery. Satsu, Chiyo’s older sister, gets sold elsewhere, and ends up in a brothel. Meanwhile, Chiyo soon begins working as a maid at the Nitta Okiya, a geisha house in the geisha district Gion, and training to become a geisha at the same time. A fellow maid and trainee, Pumpkin, guides Chiyo along in training, and acts as a friend under the terror of the geisha of the house, Hatsumomo. Hatsumomo, from sheer fear of rival geisha, torments the girls and tricks them into getting into trouble for her entertainment and benefit. One day, Chiyo manages to find Satsu at the brothel, and they plan to run away together. On the allotted night, Chiyo twists her ankle while trying to escape and never hears from Satsu again. At her okiya, Chiyo suffers the consequences of running away. She spends two more years as a maid, with her training discontinued, and Pumpkin graduates to the Apprentice Geisha level of her training when Hatsumomo takes her as her younger sister, a custom for apprentice geisha and their mentors. Chiyo, in sadness and a little jealousy, cries on the street near a popular theatre in the area. Out of sympathy, a man, the Chairman of Iwamura Electric, offers his handkerchief and a kind word, as well as a coin for shaved ice. After that day, Chiyo dedicates her life to work her way up the geisha’s social ladder to meet the Chairman and entertain him.  Soon, Chiyo falls under the favor of Gion’s top geisha and Hatsumomo’s top rival, Mameha. She pays for Chiyo’s training, and, after many months, makes Chiyo her ‘younger sister’ and gives Chiyo the geisha name Sayuri. As an apprentice geisha, Sayuri’s mission consists of developing relationships with teahouses all around Gion and gathering regular patrons of her company.  Eventually, she possesses several dedicated customers, among them Nobu, business partners with the Chairman at Iwamura Electric, and “Dr. Crab”. The two men bid for Sayuri’s mizuage, “Dr. Crab” wins and pays a record amount for it: 11,800 yen, enough to repay all of Sayuri’s debts and put her in favor of the okiya. This new favoritism demolishes Pumpkin’s chance of adoption by the Mother of the okiya, and begins also the ruin of Hatsumomo’s career.  Soon, news and rumors run wild about World War II reaching Japan’s shores, and all of the geisha wonder which of their patrons would save them from the factories. Sayuri’s danna (a principal patron with a standing similar to that of a husband), an army general, turns her away, telling her that he no longer carries influence of any kind in the military to keep her safe. In desperation, she goes to Nobu, who takes her to a kimono maker’s home, and works there for the years to come. After the war, Sayuri returns to the okiya and resumes work as a geisha, often entertaining the party of Iwamura Electric, consisting of the Chairman, Nobu, and the Deputy Minister Sato, whom Nobu hates with the intensity of a thousand suns. After a few months, Nobu's effections towards Sayuri grow stronger, more obvious, and everyone knows he plans to propose himself as her danna very soon.  Sayuri, desperate for the Chairman instead Nobu to propose himself as her danna, formulates a plan for Nobu to ‘stumble’ upon her and the Minister making love. Instead, the Chairman walks in on the scene, and Sayuri’s dreams of living with the Chairman crumbles the moment she sees his face gauge the scene.  Later, the Chairman requests Sayuri’s company and explains that he loves her, but he owed a debt to Nobu and refrained from proposing himself as her danna. Sayuri tells him that she returns his love, and they kiss. The Chairman, after learning Sayuri’s intentions of exposing her ‘secret relationship’ with the Minister to Nobu, and not him, tells Nobu what he witnessed. Infuriated, Nobu refuses to see Sayuri ever again. The Chairman and Sayuri unite, and live their lives freely and happily. Eventually, Sayuri gives birth to a son, and to avoid complications with the inheritance of Iwamura Electric, moves to New York and lives the remainder of her life running a teahouse there.

This fantastic read slides its way easily into the hands of anyone who enjoys stories of hard work, sacrifice, destiny, and love overcoming all obstacles. The Japanese culture and lifestyle of a Geisha behind this novel provides another wonderful factor to consider when picking a book. This book brings tears to the eyes, warmth into the heart, and sheds more light on the meaning of life, love, and the world around us.


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