Memoirs of a Geisha, the debut novel by Arthur Golden, documents the fictional life of a young girl who is sold to an okiya (Geisha house), then trained and mentored as an apprentice until she becomes a Geisha at the age of 18. The novel is predominantly set in Gion, Kyoto over the tumultuous time of 1930’s and 1940’s Japan and documents the wavering fortunes of Sayuri and the number of vividly described characters she befriends or acquaints herself with, such as the conniving and envious Hatsumomo of her okiya, the Chairman, the object of Sayuri’s desires, and the various men who have a significant impact on her life.
This mysterious world of Japanese entertainment is delicately revealed and the reader learns of traditional arts and rituals through the eyes of Sayuri as she is guided by Mameha, who becomes her “older sister”, through her teenage years into womanhood. The insight the author provides into the life of a Geisha is enlightening, at times oppressive and other times uplifting. The depictions of the districts, teahouses and dress of the times are striking.
“Memoirs of a Geisha is a rare and utterly engaging experience. The extraordinary tale of Sayuri, a young girl who grows up to become an acclaimed geisha, it spans a quarter of a century, from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan’s dramatic history, and opens a window onto a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation.”