Arthur Golden •
Memoirs of a Geisha •
What makes this book so extraordinary is its intimate view of the arcane world of the geisha. For centuries the rituals and practices of this closed society have been known only to its members. Every aspect of geisha life, from the elaborate hair ornaments to the flint struck on the back for luck, is steeped in symbolism, tradition, and strict protocol.
Golden explores this culture through the eyes of a young girl. When only nine, Chiyo is taken from her “tipsy house” perched over the sea to an okiya in Kyoto’s Gion district as payment for her family’s debts. There, engulfed by homesickness, terror, and confusion, she meets with the tyranny of the geisha “mother” and the spite of arrogant Hatsumomo, Gion’s most popular entertainer. A chance word from a kind stranger fuels Chiyo’s constant dream of escaping the tightly structured, harsh environment of the okiya.
Over the space of years, we follow her rise from servant to apprentice to full-fledged geisha, renamed Sayuri. Her “older sister” orchestrates the bidding for her virginity, surrendered for a record sum to a Dr. Crab. Sayuri survives World War II by fleeing to the countryside, but with the postwar influx of foreigners, the insular life she has known is forever changed, and her destiny along with it.
From first page to last, the tone of Memoirs is unerring—and riveting. “Autobiography . . . is like asking a rabbit to tell us what he looks like hopping through the grasses of the field. How would he know? If we want to hear about the field, on the other hand, no one is in a better circumstance to tell us.” And nowhere is this “field” as vividly portrayed as in Golden’s book.