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‘Memoirs of a Geisha’

Rithy Odom / Khmer Times Share:

First-time American novelist Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, follows the life of a female Japanese entertainer, often mistakenly perceived as equal to prostitute, before and after World War 2.

Born in a tiny fishing village in Yoroido, Chiyo lives a typical poor life. But her mundane life turns upside down when her mother dies of bone cancer. Her father, who can no longer afford to raise the family, decides to sell Chiyo and her sister, Satsu, to a businessman in Kyoto. Her life has never been normal since then.

Because of her unique beauty, Chiyo is brought to an okiya, a house for geishas. Her sister, unfortunately, is sent to a house of prostitution. Chiyo attempts several times to find her sister and escape with her. But her final and most daring escape plan fails, with her arms and legs bruised and broken.

Chiyo learns to accept her fate and submits to a cruel and greedy businesswoman, called “Mother”, in the okiya. Aside from cleaning the household, Chiyo also assists the okiya’s star geisha, Hatsumomo. But Chiyo’s arrival seems to be a threat to Hatsumomo’s fame so she tries to make life harder for the young girl.

Chiyo, who came to Kyoto as a helpless and poor little girl, soon realises that she has no other way out but to be a geisha herself. She enrolls in a school where she learns dancing, playing instruments, and performing tea service.

As Chiyo blooms more beautifully, Hatsumomo’s hatred also grows. The latter accused Chiyo of stealing and eventually succeeds to taint her reputation in the okiya. Mother stops providing for Chiyo and instead treats her as a personal servant.

Another prominent geisha, and definitely more popular than Hatsumomo, Mameha, comes to the okiya and tells Mother that she is willing to help Chiyo. Through Mameha, Chiyo easily becomes the apple of the eye of the famous men in Kyoto.

This is when Chiyo, who is now given her geisha name Sayuri, meets the Chairman and Nobu. She falls in love with the Chairman because of the kindness he had shown her when they first met years before Chiyo became a real geisha. But Nobu has also expressed his willingness to be the geisha’s “danna” – a man who serves as patron. Sayuri wants to follow her heart, but the Chairman knows that loving Chiyo back will ruin his friendship with Nobu.

Sayuri’s success as a geisha in Kyoto is hampered by the war. Geishas and all others flee the district, trying to save their own lives. Nobu, who is still very much in love with Sayuri, arranged for the geisha to be brought to a far village. There, Sayuri works as a kimono-maker. She returns to Kyoto after the war, by Nobu’s request.

Sayuri regains her stature in Kyoto and starts serving tea to high-ranking officials in Japan. Despite the fact that Sayuri continues to struggle through life, she eventually attains a happiness with the man her heart yearns for, the Chairman.

As the Chairman’s professional mistress, Sayuri relocates to New York and opens a small tea house for Japanese businessmen. In her new home, Sayuri builds a life away from her past, away from Japan.

Golden’s book was released in 1997. It received mixed reactions from readers and critics. While the book has quite a load of accurate details, many think the author’s view of Sayuri as a geisha is shallow, especially because Golden wrote it as a fictional autobiography of the main character.

Nevertheless, Memoirs of a Geisha gave me the thrill I look for in books. It’s lovely and helpful especially because of its unique theme. And noting that the book has been adapted into a movie in 2005 is enough proof that it has created an impact to the society.
Don’t miss this great piece, bookworms.

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