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Trade Reviews

  Library Journal Review

"I wasn't born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha....I'm a fisherman's daughter from a little town called Yoroido on the Sea of Japan." How nine-year-old Chiyo, sold with her sister into slavery by their father after their mother's death, becomes Sayuri, the beautiful geisha accomplished in the art of entertaining men, is the focus of this fascinating first novel. Narrating her life story from her elegant suite in the Waldorf Astoria, Sayuri tells of her traumatic arrival at the Nitta okiya (a geisha house), where she endures harsh treatment from Granny and Mother, the greedy owners, and from Hatsumomo, the sadistically cruel head geisha. But Sayuri's chance meeting with the Chairman, who shows her kindness, makes her determined to become a geisha. Under the tutelage of the renowned Mameha, she becomes a leading geisha of the 1930s and 1940s. After the book's compelling first half, the second half is a bit flat and overlong. Still, Golden, with degrees in Japanese art and history, has brilliantly revealed the culture and traditions of an exotic world, closed to most Westerners. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/97.]‘Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

Presented as the memoirs of a celebrated Japanese geisha, Golden's first novel follows a poor youngster from her humble origins in a rural fishing village to her later years spent in luxurious surroundings in New York City's Waldorf-Astoria. In 1929, nine-year-old Sayuri is sold to an okiya in Kyoto by her desperate father, where she is slated to be trained as a geisha. The intensive courses require her to learn how to dance, play a musical instrument, gracefully wear the heavy, layered costumes, apply elaborate makeup, and, most especially, beguile powerful men. Initially stymied by the jealous, vindictive Hatsumomo, the okiya's top earner, Sayuri is eventually taken under the wing of one of Hatsumomo's chief rivals, Mameha. She proves to be such an astute businesswoman that her campaign to make Sayuri a success results in Sayuri's setting a new record when two wealthy men get into a bidding war over who will be the one to claim her virginity. Expertly operating within the tight constraints of her profession, Sayuri eventually wins a small measure of freedom when she deliberately thwarts the attentions of an older man and makes an open play for the man she has always loved. Revealing both the aesthetic delights and the unending cruelty that underlie the exotic world of the geisha, Golden melds sparkling historical fiction with a compelling coming-of-age story. Popular fiction at its best. --Joanne Wilkinson

  Kirkus Review

Cherry blossomdelicate, with images as carefully sculpted as bonsai, this tale of the life of a renowned geisha, one of the last flowers of a kind all but eliminated by WW II, marks an auspicious, unusual debut. Japan is already changing, becoming industrialized and imperialistic, when in 1929 young Chiyo's fisherman father sells her to a house in Kyoto's famous Gion district. The girl's gray- eyed beauty is startling even in childhood, so much so that her training is impeded by the jealousy of her house's primary geisha, the popular, petty Hatsumomo. Caught trying to run away, Chiyo loses her trainee status until taken under the wing of Mameha, a bitter rival of Hatsumomo. Chiyo flourishes with Mameha as her guide, soon receiving her geisha name, Sayuri, and having her mentor skillfully arrange the two main events vital to a geisha's success: the sale of Sayuri's virginity (for a record price), and the finding of a sugar-daddy to pay her way. Seeing the implications of Japan's militarism, Mameha pairs Sayuri with the general in charge of army provisions, so that as WW II drags on she and her house have things no one else in Gion can obtain. After the war, with her general dead and others vying for her attention, Sayuri pines anew for the only man she ever loved--an electrical- corporation chairman whose kindness to a crying Chiyo years before altered the course of her future. He seems out of reach since his right-hand man and closest friend is her most ardent admirer, but in the end her long-thwarted happiness is accomplished. Though incomparable in its view of a geisha's life behind the scenes, the story loses immediacy as it goes along. When modern times eclipse Gion's sheltered world, the latter part of Sayuri's life--compared to the incandescent clarity of its first decades- -seems increasingly flat. (First printing of 75,000)
Summary
An alluring tour de force: a brilliant debut novel told with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism as the true confessions of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha.nbsp;nbsp;<br> <br> Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love, always elusive, is scorned as illusion.nbsp;nbsp;<br> <br> Sayuri's story begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. Through her eyes, we see the decadent heart of Gion--the geisha district of Kyoto--with its marvelous teahouses and theaters, narrow back alleys, ornate temples, and artists' streets. And we witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men's solicitude and the money that goes with it. But as World War II erupts and the geisha houses are forced to close, Sayuri, with little money and even less food, must reinvent herself all over again to find a rare kind of freedom on her own terms.<br> <br> Memoirs of a Geisha is a book of nuances and vivid metaphor, of memorable characters rendered with humor and pathos. And though the story is rich with detail and a vast knowledge of history, it is the transparent, seductive voice of Sayuri that the reader remembers.<br> <br> A dazzling literary achievement of empathy and grace by an extraordinary new writer.
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