Memoirs of a Geisha is a story about a young girl called Chiyo Chan who lives in a village along with her parents and sister. Poverty coupled with mother’s illness forces the father to sell his children to an acquaintance. The girls believe that they will be adopted by another person who is good. Only later do they realize that their world has fallen apart as they both are sold, separated and sent to different geisha houses.
The separation led to Chiyo’s entry into the Geisha household (also known as Okiya). This is the turning point in her life. Here, she gets her name ‘Sayuri’ and begins to lead a life totally alien and intimidating to her. Step by step, she comes to terms with the hardships. Little by little she understands her plight, her misery, helplessness and the mysteries of life.
In the Okiya, she learns about what a geisha is. She slogs in the house, works endlessly, gets beaten up, and is treated badly by Hatsumomo, another geisha of the house. Though she is fascinated by the dress, makeup and lifestyle of the geisha, she has her share of bitterness and misery.
The turning point in the story is when Sayuri meets a man who says some kind words to her. She remembers him fondly throughout her trials and trysts with life. She hopes to meet him someday. She does not know if she loves him but she hopes for him endlessly. In the meanwhile Sayuri is taken under the wing of another geisha named Mameha, who teaches her the finer life and living of a geisha, all the while plotting the downfall of Hatsumomo.
The rest of the story goes on describe how Sayuri transforms in a beautiful geisha. Her transformation is complete. She is introduced to the tea-houses. She meets people and gives them company. Mameha ensures that Sayuri is well taken care of and continually teaches her the fine nuances of being a Geisha.
Memoirs of a Geisha is a fictional story intertwined with facts. The period in which the story was set was turbulent. There were difficult times when the geishas did not have enough to live properly. Their funds and resources were incredibly low. Being a Geisha or a princess, the trials and tribulations of life do not excuse anyone. Even in the rich brocade ensemble is the trial and tryst of the poor young woman. With no one to look back to or ahead for, the reader can sympathize with Sayuri. Not because she is the central character of the book, but for the fact that she is a human too. A human being who has been subjected to a world she would have never wanted to be in.
The book is a wonderful narration of the life of a geisha. It begins slowly and ends beautifully. The book is always better than the movie as it lets you weave your own imagination.
The character of Sayuri has been sketched wonderfully by the author. Sayuri is one personality you will be completely sympathetic to. Her life, trials, trysts, dreams, wishes, and fantasies become yours. The book is about the 25 years of her life. From being a small village girl, thrown into painful circumstances, brought up in the geisha’s house, slogging under the okiya, and becoming a geisha herself, you feel and empathize with sayuri. Her helplessness, her anger and bitterness are felt. There is so much emotion that gets conveyed that you almost feel she had been with you all the while.
Memoirs of a Geisha gives us a new perspective of life. Life of a geisha is not roses and voilets. They cannot have their own will. Half their life goes in getting beaten up and trained and another half goes in taking care and training the other one. It is cruel by circumstance. There is not much money or wealth left with them as most of their earnings go to the upkeep of their ‘mother’ or ‘the okiya’.
It gives a new perspective about the life of Geishas whom I erstwhile thought to be premium prostitutes. It is a fine dividing line.
Geishas are not exactly prostitutes but a companion who comes at a price and with whom the men can spend time with. Geishas are exclusive women with training in finer aspects of life such as art, tea-ceremonies, singing, etc. But there are some geishas who sell themselves. We do not know if all geishas are like that. Geisha are mostly in the company of men but utterly lonely. More often than not, they are being paid to be in the company of men and serve them, and this does not relive them of their loneliness. Their only other company is other geishas who are competitive themselves, to the extent of being cut-throat. And they are not supposed to be having boyfriends, companions or husbands. This makes their life all the more pathetic.
Memoirs of a Geisha does full justice to the life of a geisha. It does not malign them nor ridicules them. It celebrates the uncertainness of life.
This is one of the most painful yet hopeful novels I had come across. All the while I read, I hoped that Sayuri’s life changes or that she dies to escape her painful life. I kept hoping that things would be better for her. Her pain was indeed painful and there was no reason why she should be suffering so much.
But as we draw close to the end of the book, lovely surprises await. Suddenly there is so much hope and happiness in her life that you cry out of joy. The last few pages of the book were indeed soul warming. You could feel her love and longing.
Memoirs of a Geisha is one of the most heartening novels I had come across. I recommend this book to anyone who would be interested to know about Geishas, Japanese Tea Ceremonies, Second World War Times and its difficulties, and the general scenario in Japan.
Memoirs of a Geisha gives us a fascinating insight for those who are not well versed with the Japanese culture and helps us appreciate it.
Memoirs of a Geisha has also been made into a movie by Sony Pictures.