Chiyo is a poor girl from a small Japanese village, Yoroido. Her father is a fisherman and she lives in what she calls a “tipsy house” near the cliff. When her mother dies, her father can’t no longer take care of Chiyo and the girl is given to Mr. Tanaka, who takes her and her sister to Kyoto. There, Chiyo goes to a geisha house in Gion while her sister is sold as a prostitute. Chiyo’s training to become a geisha is difficult: first she changed her name into Sayuri. Besides, her beautiful eyes and natural elegance provoke the envy of the main geisha, Hatsumomo, who betrays and even attacks her in many occasions
As time goes by, Sayuri becomes a successful geisha, she counts on Mamela, her partner and rival of the cruel Hatsumomo. Besides, she has important clients, like businessmen or politicians. However, her truth love is for the gentle Chairman, whom she can’t tell about her feelings because she is in debt with Nobu, the Chairman’s friend and partner.
When the Second World War breaks out, the geisha house is closed and as a result Sayuri must move to a safer place, with the help of Nobu, who is constantly looking after her. When the war ends, she retires from being a geisha, becomes the Chairman’s “danna” and moves to New York, where she has her own tea house.
The novel is a deeply affecting story of love, written in an elegant prose. Through the acute descriptions we can approach the way of life and training of geishas, as well as the competitiveness, envy, search for triumph and lack of trust in their lives. Sayuri tells the story in first person, which makes the reader feel involved in the plot. Furthermore, the main characters are exceptionally well drawn, they try to survive in an hostile environment and they are often trapped inside their passions. In addition, the narrator perfectly describes the ceremonies of geishas, like the “mizuage” (when a geisha loses her virginity) or the “donna” (when a powerful man supports the geisha’s training and her entire livelihood).
In short, this is a wonderful and fascinating book I couldn’t put down, I truly recommend it.
Here are some paragraphs I’ve loved:
“My mother’ eyes were a translucent gray, and mine are just the same. The fortune-tellers said her eyes were so pale because of too much water in her personality”“From the moment the Chairman had first spoken to me, I’d forgotten that I was watching for a sign about my future”
“I cannot tell you what it is that guides us in this life; but for me, I fell toward the Chairmen just as a stone must fall toward the earth”
“Our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on a paper”