October 07, 2011

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

I'd already seen the movie and loved it and was eager to read the book. I have to say, I found this book positively addicting. It was hard for me to put it down and I read it quite quickly I enjoyed it so much.

Born Chiyo, Sayuri is a Geisha that had a long hard road to get to the top of her world. When she was a child, her mother was ill and her father old. This led to she and her sister being sold to separate places in Kyoto. In Chiyo's case, she was sold to a okiya (house for geishas) to be a maid and also possibly apprentice as a Geisha. Misfortune and a vindictive Geisha named Hatsumomo however, quickly stop her dreams and she falls into the drudge and life as a maid. It is only when Mameha, one of the most renowned geisha in the Gion district of Kyoto takes her as her "little sister" apprentice does Chiyo's life turn around.

She receives her new name of Sayuri, and in spite of opposition, she and Mameha quickly make a place for her in the world as an Apprentice Geisha and she starts to earn some fame. During all this she thinks about one thing, the man who inspired her to do whatever it takes to become a Geisha. The Chairman, as she calls him, was kind to her when she was a girl and her greatest desire is to reach a level where she can be with him. To do this, she becomes a Geisha and lives the life as she has to, trying to reach ever closer to him. While she is doing this she must go through the rituals of being a Geisha, suffer through the war, and regain her place in the aftermath that is Japan after the war.

The characters in this were well done. There were a couple that didn't really add anything for me but they were largely minor characters. Sayuri, while not having a lot of emotion described, filled the role of narrator well and told a compelling tale of a Geisha's life. Her arch nemesis Hatsumomo was decidedly evil but still seemed real as a villain. Nobu, a man who appears in the book many times is surly but likable and there are a lot of other characters that added to the story as well.

Golden writes very descriptively and from his words it was interesting to learn some of the facts and stories about what it took to become a Geisha. I especially enjoyed learning about their makeup and clothing and how they were applied. He appears to have done extensive research and I trust that this story is fairly accurate in regards to those things. I normally don't care for first person narratives but I think he did an ok job of being Sayuri in this book.

I definitely was pleased with this book and it has made me interested in reading more about Geisha. I highly recommend it as a love story and a somewhat historical account of Geisha clothing and makeup.

Memoirs of a Geisha
Copyright 1997
499 pages

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