Saturday, 4 August 2012

Memoirs of a Geisha

Date of Reading: 22/10/2007
Author: Arthur Golden
Publisher: Vintage Books
Place: New York
Year: 1997

         'Gei' means arts and therefore the literal meaning of 'Geisha' is artist. A Geisha is above all an entertainer and a performer. But in reality the line that divides a Geisha and a prostitute is really thin; a circumstance that can be compared to the fate of Devadasees in Indian temples.
         In this context, this literary sensation of Arthur Golden seems to be a mere fancy tale; story is related as the memoirs of a famous Geisha who had reached the pinnacle of her career, led a contented life and finally succeeded in becoming the mistress of the man she loved all her life -- something like a from rags to riches story.
         Imagine for a moment your little girl proudly announcing one day, "Dad/Mom, when I grow up I will become a famous prostitute". Well, this pretty much summarises the situation. How could anyone be proud to be a Geisha is beyond my imagination (I mean the Geisha in the story, the real life of a Japanese Geisha is still clouded in mystery), but even if your conscience won't agree with the too good-to-be-true tale, the novel is a beautiful, brilliant masterpiece and there is no failing to like it.
         A much more true version can be found in Sayo Masuda's 'Autobiography of a Geisha'. Here the author, herself once a Geisha, reveals some of the behind-the-screen facts, especially the treatment they get from other ladies in the society.
         Nitta Sayuri here gives an account of her life as a Geisha and it begins in the poor fishing village of Yoroido in 1929. Her real name is Chiyo - Chan. At the age of nine, she and her sister Satsu are sold due to the poverty at home -- she to a Geisha house at Kyoto, and Satsu to a prostitute group.
         House where a Geisha lives is called an okiya; Chiyo's okiya is Nitta which consists of Auntie, Mother, Granny, Hatsumomo and Pumpkin, a girl of her age. When Chiyo attempts to escape from the place, she loses the opportunity to become a Geisha and henceforth is fated to live the life of a servant maid. The meeting with a man called as Chairman produces new inspiration and from then on her sole aim is to procure him as a danna (much like a patron).
         At the funeral of Granny the well known Geisha Mameha notices her and she convinces Mother to train her again and also under Mameha. Now the life she has aspired is back on track and Chiyo changes her name to Sayuri when she becomes the Geisha. Her mizuage (the custom of losing the virginity), is done by Dr. Crab and the huge amount of money thus gained was enough to convince Mother to adopt her; this way one day the okiya will be hers. Hatsumomo, who has also set her hopes on this, leaves the place, becomes a prostitute and dies of excessive drinking.
         Sayuri becomes the mistress of General Tottori even though Nobu, Chairman's partner, also has his eyes on her. Then comes the World War II and the Geisha villages are closed. Under Nobu's help she survives and resumes the same profession after the war. Now is the time to repay Nobu, but her heart as always is set on the Chairman. So to ward off Nobu she pretends to have a relationship with a Minister, but it is the Chairman who finds out this secret; but on recognising her love he accepts her. He too has loved her always and Mameha has come to the aid because of his instructions. She owes her Geisha existence to him.
          On his insistence Sayuri drops her profession; she gives birth to a son and migrates to New York. She can only hope to be a half wife as a Geisha but she is content.
          The character of Sayuri and her story is imaginary. The book has got into a lot of controversy when the author revealed his source as Mineko Iwasaki; she later writes a book titled Geisha: A Life as she felt that Golden's novel gives forth the wrong impression.


  1. Well written review.
    You have almost given away the complete plot :-)

  2. Its a good read, and I prefer the book. But Hey! Don't give away the plot with the chairman :)

  3. Stunning book and great review but don't put it all out there! Stumbled on your blog from BookBlogs I've followed and all :P

    Would appreciate a follow back,


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