Has there been a film version?
Yes, a very popular one which came out in 2005 and won a ton of awards, including Oscars and Golden Globes.
Who are the important characters?
Chiyo/Sayuri – a girl with startling grey eyes and beauty, sold to an okiya at a young age
Hatsumomo – the primary geisha of the Nitta Okiya, hates Chiyo because of her beauty, incredibly self-centered
Pumpkin – the other young girl at the Nitta Okiya, sometimes Chiyo’s friend, also becomes Hatsumomo’s apprentice
Mameha – the most popular and successful geisha in Gion
Nobu – a businessman from Iwamura Electric with only one arm and severe burn marks, is attracted to Chiyo/Sayuri
Mother – the owner of the Nitta okiya
Auntie – a washed up geisha who works at the Nitta Okiya
The Chairman – Chairman of Iwamura Electric, Sayuri’s secret love
Satsu – Chiyo’s sister
What’s it about?
Chiyo is a girl born in a remote village of Japan to a poor fisherman father and a sickly mother. Everyone believes her to be beautiful because of her grey eyes. She and her sister, Satsu, are discovered by a man from a nearby village, Mr. Tanaka, who feels the need to get them out of their poor circumstances. Although Chiyo believes Mr. Tanaka will adopt her and her sister, he instead sells them in Gion; Chiyo to the Nitta okiya to train to become a geisha and Satsu to a whorehouse. In the Nitta okiya, Chiyo is at the bottom of the food chain. There is only one geisha for the Nittas and that is Hatsumomo – beautiful but high maintenence. Chiyo is put to work cleaning up after everyone else while she waits to see if she can enter training. She also befriends another girl her age in the okiya named Pumpkin. Hatsumomo immediately recognizes Chiyo as a threat because of her beauty and does her best to get her thrown out of the okiya, including accusing her of stealing money and beating her. When Chiyo tries to run away with her sister, she breaks her arm and Mother, the owner of the okiya, swears she has lost her only chance of becoming a geisha and deems her a servant.
One day while running errands, the Chairman of Iwamura Electric sees Chiyo standing by the River and gives her money to buy a snowcone. Chiyo is immediately in love with him and only thinks of finding a way to become a geisha so she can be with him. Even when circumstances change for better or for worse, Chiyo’s thoughts are always on how to be with the Chairman.
Why is this book a classic/bestseller?
Probably because it’s about a world Westerners don’t know very much about. Most of us would assume that geisha are merely upper class prostitutes when instead they are a great deal more than this.
Do you recommend I read this book?
How did this book make your list?
My mother recommended it before the movie came out.
Has it won any awards?
No, I don’t think so.
“But being sent out into the world isn’t necessarily the same thing as leaving your home behind.” – p 106
“This is why dreams can be such dangerous things: they smolder on like a fire does, and sometimes consume us completely.” – p 106
This isn’t an actual memoir, although Arthur Golden did interview a geisha to find out about their lives. Then he got sued for it. Bummer.
I’ve started this book several times and always either found something a little more intriguing to read or had the book taken from me (like, my mother stealing it or it suddenly disappeared). However, I can assure you this is a gripping read. Once you get past the first
few chapters and Chiyo is actually in Gion, the book becomes quite impossible to put down. Whether it was because the story was about a world I know nothing about or because of the themes of love, pleasure, hatred, and greed – I was hooked. The author does an incredible
job of creating each of the characters – and none of them are stock. Each one is human in their own way, whether it’s Nobu’s need to stay under the radar, or Hatsumomo’s self-absorbed nature. And the descriptions of Gion itself are anything but blase. The city is painted
as a colorful pleasure palace with such rules of etiquette that I wouldn’t survive. And throughout the entire story is woven a theme of hope and love – no matter how desperate the circumstances may become.