Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

Author: Arthur Golden

First Published in: 1997

Storyline : A small 9-year-old girl along with her older sister is sold by the poverty-stricken family and has to leave the small hut house on the beach, her ailing mother and all childhood memories. They only had each other but that also did not last since Chiyo the younger sister, the prettier one is sold to the Geisha house whereas the older sister Satsu is forced into prostitution as it was considered that she didn’t have the looks needed for a Geisha. Chiyo loses the touch with her sister and starts living in the Geisha house where she has to do house chores to pay off her living cost to house and seek apprenticeship from one of the other Geisha Hatsu staying in the same house. Hatsu who is trying to make her way to be the heir of the Geisha house takes instant dislike to Chiyo and considers her to be a potential threat. Chiyo who is always seeking the whereabouts og her sister comes to know that Hatsu has the information on this but instead of helping Chiyo Hatsu makes her do all her chores and even to the extent of hurting her rival Geisha Mameha by spoiling her valuable Kimono.geisha

Chiyo makes a friend also in the Geisha house, another apprentice, Pumpkin who is not as pretty as Chiyo and is always way behind Chiyo in learning the ways of a Geisha.  When Chiyo gets info on her sister she plans to run away but is caught and made a slave. Later Mameha, Hatsu’s rival takes interest in Chiyo and takes on her to mentor Chiyo while Hatsu starts mentoring Pumpkin. During her time as slave, Chiyo once sitting dejected on a road is offered money and handkerchief by a man who she knows as a Chairman. When she is ready and is taken by Mamhea to popular tea houses for networking she comes across the chairman. She falls for him and wants him to be her ‘Danna’ or sponsor but due to world war 2 Chairman who also liked Chiyo is about to lose his business cannot afford to and instead offers another Danna who had saved his company but was the same person who had once tried to assault Chiyo. It gets complicated but ultimately Chairman becomes her Danna and moves her to New York.


Geisha culture was very popular in Japan. This novel very beautifully explores all the facets of being a Geisha. The glamour associated with it, the intrigue of Geisha life, the setup and business of whole Geisha culture. The novel is written in a way of narration by the writer as part of his interviewing the Geisha in her older age in New York. All events happening in her life from her childhood to being a popular Geisha are narrated precisely. It gives insight into the life of a Geisha, the trainings that they have to take – dancing, preparing sake, the competition to stay in Geisha houses for survival, the rivalry with other Geishas, the money minded-ness of the mothers who run the Geisha houses, the networking that Geishas undertake to get a sponsor so that they do not have to be mistresses to multiple men and all the other things associated with being a Geisha. It also puts light on the complete control of Geisha house on personal life of a Geisha who are not allowed to fall in love, especially with someone who cannot sponsor them.

I absolutely loved this novel. It is so well written that when reading I totally forgot all happenings around me. I could imagine each and every scene clearly in my head as if I was there and seeing everything first hand – either the structure of geisha house, the Geishas, their amazingly designed Kimonons, the tea houses and everything else. I got completely engrossed in this book and I did not want this one to finish. I would totally recommend it.


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