Memoirs of a Geisha tells the story of a young girl who is taken from her home in a poverty stricken fishing village and sold to a geisha training house in Kyoto, where she is bullied by the resident geisha Hatsumomo and struggles through her geisha training with her friend Pumpkin. However, when she tries to escape the okiya to run away with her sister, she angers the women in charge of her future, and has to become reconciled to a future as nothing more than a servant girl. Soon, though, Hatsumomo’s rival geisha, Mameha, chooses to take Sakamoto under her wing and train her as a geisha, using her as a weapon to get back at Hatsumomo.
Learning about the geisha culture was absolutely fascinating to me. It’s so alien and new, but the rituals and traditions appeal to me. Despite all appearances in my daily life, I like order and rules and knowing exactly what’s going to happen when. I do feel like Golden shied away a little from the nitty gritty: he portrays the geisha’s world as an endless night of parties and fun conversations in uncomfortable clothes, only marred by bitchy comments from other girls trying to get ahead. I can’t help but feel that there must be more to it than that, as the whole environment the geisha are in leaves them exposed to uncomfortable situations and abuse.
Still, Memoirs of a Geisha definitely awakened an interest in me about this period of history. On my reading list now is Geisha of Gion, an autobiography written by Mineko Iwasaki, one of the geisha that Golden interviewed as research for his book. According to Iwasaki, Golden had promised to keep her identity a secret. When he named her in the acknowledgements, she was inundated with criticism and threats for having violated the unwritten rule that geisha don’t talk about their lives or their clients. She went on to write her own autobiography, which I’m told paints a dramatically different picture of geisha life. I look forward to learning more!