Memoirs of a Geisha is a fascinating look into the mysterious world that is the Japanese geisha. The book is not only extremely well-written and entertaining, but compelling and hard to put down. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this totally foreign world.
In 1929 Japan, nine-year-old Chiyo is sold to the Nitta okiya (geisha house) and brought to the Gion district in Kyoto, Japan. She is separated from her older sister, Satsu, and other than one brief encounter, never sees her again. Her dying mother passes away shortly after Chiyo leaves and her father dies not long after. She is alone in the world except for Mother, Auntie, fellow sufferer, Pumpkin and the beautiful but hateful geisha, Hatsumomo. In service as a maid, the miserable Chiyo also begins attending school to learn to be a geisha. After a failed escape attempt Chiyo is condemned forever to be a maid. Pumpkin, Chiyo’s only friend, is at first a novice and then apprenticed to Hatsumomo and is forbidden to have contact with her.
Another geisha in the city befriends Chiyo and apprentices her. Mameha is one of the most successful geisha in Gion. Chiyo resumes her studies in dance, music and entertaining. Her beauty and grace almost guarantee her a high place in the geisha society.
Mameha, as Chiyo’s “older sister,” takes her to parties and tea houses and introduces her around. At every turn, Hatsumomo tries to discredit and dishonor Chiyo and causes her more misery than ever.
After Chiyo’s virginity (mizuage) is purchased, she becomes the young geisha, Sayuri. She is obsessed by a man, the Chairman, who once showed her kindness and eagerly looks for him everywhere. His associate, Nobu Toshikazu, the disfigured but wealthy head of Iwamura Electric wishes to become Sayuri’s danna (patron) but is outbid by a general.
During the outbreak of World War II, Sayuri is sent away from Gion. Eventually she returns to the all but destroyed city and against all odds finds true love.