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Memoirs of Geisha Book Review

Essay by   •  February 11, 2011  •  Book/Movie Report  •  1,221 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,514 Views

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Published in 1997, Memoirs of a Geisha portrays a geisha's rise from a Japanese fishing village to life in high society. In this fictional history novel, Arthur Golden strives to provide his readers with the basic knowledge of the Japanese history in the years between 1930 and 1940. Westerners usually think of geishas simply as prostitutes, but the book attempts to right the misconception that geishas are simply prostitutes by showing the reader various trainings the geisha undertakes to perfect her art.

The book tells a story from the eyes of Chiyo, a young, innocent girl from a poor fishing village, Yoroido, who is sold by her parents to a renowned geisha house. Little Chiyo lives her life in agony because she has no family left and she has to serve a notorious geisha named Hatsumomo. One day while running an errand for the house that she lives in, Chiyo falls down on a stone near a river and starts to cry for she can no longer endure the pain and hardships she is going through at such a young age. Luckily, the Chairman of a wealthy electric company comes across her. He takes notice of her and is marveled by the beauty her eyes posses. He then goes to a well-known geisha by the name of Mameha and asks her to adopt Chiyo as her younger sister so she can train her to become a geisha too. After she becomes an apprentice geisha, her name is changed to Sayuri. During this whole time Sayuri is in love with the Chairman but he never seems to pay attention to her. Finally, the Chairman and Sayuri tell each other how they feel towards one another and he becomes her danna, somewhat like a husband.

The main conflict is between Sayuri and Hatsumomo. The underlying reason of the conflict lies in a certain aspect of a typical geisha. Some geishas in Japan would do anything to ruin the reputation of others because the fewer geishas there are and the more popular they are, the more money they will make. So Hatsumomo, as "people knew how jealous she felt" [122], sets out to ruin Sayuri's life who has nothing and no one in this world, "like a serpent treats its next meal" [122]. In this novel, Sayuri proves to be the toughest among the geishas she works with because she works herself up respectively and wins the admiration of so many people that she is soon adopted as the daughter of the house she used to serve and live in. After all, the one who deserves all the kindness and respect receives it eventually although it took many years and a great deal of suffering. Another conflict would be between Sayuri and herself. There are two sides of Sayuri. Chiyo symbolizes her wants and the emotional side of her personality while Sayuri is sensible and logical. She is always torn between the two positions for the reason that although the Sayuri side of her tells her what is the right decision for her in terms of living and survival, the Chiyo side tells her to follow her heart. The decisions that she has made based on this have gotten her into trouble and others have given her a ray of light.

Sayuri's ambition to become a geisha is peculiar given that many westerners think geishas solicit for sex in exchange for money, similar to prostitutes. "When she learns I was once a geisha in Kyoto, she forms her mouth into a sort of smile...thinking, "my goodness... I'm talking with a prostitute..." " [291]. The author goes even further to add that there is a custom whereby geisha auction off their mizuage (virginity) possibly to the highest bidder. Geisha and prostitutes are also similar in the nature of their work, which is to entertain men. Being around many men, geisha might end up having sex with some of them, "I won't pretend a geisha never gives in casually to a man she finds attractive... Geisha have passions like everyone else..." [147]. Another reason why people often think of geisha simply as prostitutes because some geisha also end up being prostitutes, as seen in the case of Hatsumomo, who "was making a living as a prostitute" [331] and Pumpkin who "spent more than two years in Osaka as prostitute"[336]. However, all these are their private affairs. The author also states "a true geisha will never soil her reputation by making herself



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