Memoirs Of a GeishaTitle : Memoirs Of A Geisha

Author : Arthur Golden

ISBN-10: 1400096898

ISBN-13 : 978-1400096893

Paperback : 512 pages

The Plot :

The story of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is set before and after World War II in the popular Geisha district of Gion in Kyoto, Japan. It is a 1st person narrative about the life of a Geisha in Japan. It is told from the perspective of a 9 year old girl called Chiyo, and follows her throughout her life.

With the death of her mother at the age of 9 Chiyo and her sister Satsu get sold to an Okiya (Geisha House) in the prominent Geisha district of Gion in Kyoto, far away from their hometown. Here as soon as they reach, they are separated and sent to different Okiyas. In her Okiya, Chiyo lives with an array of strict characters called Grandmother, Mother and Aunty. There is another girl close to her age called Pumpkin. There is also a beautiful Geisha, the most popular Geisha in all of Kyoto, called Hatsumomo. She immediately develops a dislike for Chiyo and takes every opportunity to mistreat her and get her into trouble.

Feeling hopeless and caged in a foreign town, Chiyo tries to fight it and tries to escape every chance she gets. She plans to look for her sister and go back home with her. The only hope she has is her budding friendship with Pumpkin, who teaches her the ways of the Okiya. Pumpkin tells her how they will start schooling to become Geisha and soon they will start going out and entertaining clients. The money minded mother at the Okiya keeps a list of every expense incurred by the Okiya because of Chiyo.

Pumpkin explains to her that when she grows up and starts earning, all her income goes to the Okiya to pay back the debt collected.  In one of her times of desperation she gets some encouragement and help from a man called The Chairman. He is the only one who treats her like a person. Even though he is much older than her, she starts to fall in love with him. He is always in the presence of beautiful geishas and so Chiyo decides that she will strive hard and become a famous geisha so that she gets to meet the Chairman again.

With a couple of failed attempts to escape, Mother and Aunty get irritated with Chiyo and decide that she should stop schooling and should pay off her debt to the Okiya by working as a slave all her life at the Okiya, tending to the likes of Hatsumomo and Pumpkin and them instead of becoming a Geisha. She slowly starts to get envious of Pumpkin, but life goes on.

One day, another prominent Geisha, the only real competition to Hatsumomo called Mameha, shows up at the Okiya and asks to mentor Chiyo, free of any costs. Mother and Aunty jump at the opportunity, but this makes Pumpkin and Hatsumomo her rivals. Pumpkin is instructed not to speak with Chiyo and Mameha is the only friend that Chiyo has. Under Mameha’s tutelage she resumes her geisha studies and starts to excel at it. Soon she is to make her debut as a Maiko (apprentice Geisha). Pumpkin is average in her skills and beauty, but Chiyo now renamed Sayuri soon establishes herself as one of the premier Maiko in Kyoto. This makes Hatsumomo play dirty and spread rumours and tarnish Sayuri’s reputation in Kyoto.

With the help of Mameha and her skills she manages to combat it and manages to frequently meet the Chairman. And just as things are about to settle down and she can start to tell the Chairman about her feelings, Japan enters World War II and most of the Geisha are evacuated to work in factories. Betrayals from Pumpkin and other harsh circumstances push Sayuri to her limit. After years and many more twists in the tale she finally gets a chance to meet the chairman and set things right.

The reason I fell in love with this book was because the writing is so beautiful, that it totally transported me to a new culture that I was not aware of. It spoke about their traditions and customs and places and clothes. It is so beautifully written that I could almost feel myself standing in the cherry blossoms, when it was described. The author also paints beautiful pictures of the kimonos and head gear and other ornaments worn by the Geisha to the beautiful names of the characters and places like the Itchiriki Tea house that stuck with me. Overall I think it is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.


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