Reviews provided by Syndetics
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.
Publishers Weekly Review
The life of a famous Kyoto geishafrom her painful apprenticeship in the early 1930s through the years of her prime and her later career in Manhattanis rendered with stunning clarity in this fully imagined first novel. Golden effortlessly spins the tale as the dictated autobiography of quick-witted Chiyo Sakamoto, the daughter of a poor fisherman, who attains the pinnacle of geisha success. In the process, Golden evokes the spectrum of traditional Japanese society. Sold as a child by her financially desperate father, Chiyo is placed in a house for geisha as the personal maid to Hatsumomo, one of Kyoto's most sought-after geisha. There she is trained in the arts of dance, singing and the tea ceremony. Hatsumomo, however, threatened by Chiyo's beauty, treats her with unrestrained cruelty. Chiyo's position is one of indentured servitude: she may not leave until she has repaid all of her living expenses and even her original purchase cost. After many vicissitudes, Chiyo is transformed into a celebrated geisha called Sayuri; many men offer to be her danna (high-paying boyfriend), an honor thatdefying Western expectationsdoes not include sex unless the geisha chooses so. Despite legions of admirers however, Chiyo/Sayuri secretly pines for an unattainable man. Golden splendidly renders the superficiality of geisha culture: the word geisha translates to "artist" or "artisan," and the women spend hours painting on porcelain make-up, caring for their beautifully hued silk kimonos and honing clever conversational skills. Counter to everything geisha are taught, Chiyo learns that her own feelings do matter, and honoring them results in a well-earned, intelligent and satisfyingly happy ending. Foreign rights sold in 11 countries; Random House audio; author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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 Book 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)