Top critical review
Marginally better than the movie.
on April 27, 2014
Young Chiyo lives in a poor fishing village. Her mother is dying, and her father unable to care for Chiyo and her sister, Satsu. In desperation, he sells the girls to a local businessman, who sells Satsu into prostitution and Chiyo (the more beautiful of the sisters) to an okiya, where geisha are trained. After falling afoul of head geisha Hatsumomo, Chiyo accumulates such a mass of debt that she seems destined to work at drudgery her entire life in order to repay it. Her life takes a turn for the better when she is taken under the wing of Hatsumomo's rival, Mameha, and starts her geisha training in earnest.
The story is written as if it were a biography. I found this confusing in the beginning, as I had believed it to be fiction, and it took some reading and checking to find out that it is, in fact, historical fiction.
I applaud Golden's use of setting. I always felt like I was right there, in Japan. Not being Japanese, I can't say how accurate it was, but certainly he does an admirable job of portraying a culture and mindset that differs significantly from modern North America.
Unfortunately, the storyline suffers from lack of plausibility and overt sexism. Chiyo gains her sudden confidence, not from a determination to better her own circumstance, but solely from a chance encounter with an older man. At age twelve. That she could become infatuated with a stranger who showed her kindness is believable; that that infatuation would be the driving force behind all of her subsequent actions for years to come, not so much. When, after meeting him again, the fantasy is never shattered, never even falters a little bit, it lost me entirely.