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[X] Xenial – Memoirs of a Geisha #AtoZ | Book Review |

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Q, X, Y, & Z are the toughest alphabets in the AtoZ challenge to come up with posts best suited to them. But this year, I tackled these first and my X is Xenial which means to be hospitable. The book that I think fits this word is Memoirs of a Geisha. A Geisha is a woman trained in the arts of dance, poetry, tea serving, fan holding, etc with the sole purpose to entertain and accompany men.

Definition of xenialof, relating to, or constituting hospitality or relations between host and guest and especially among the ancient Greeks between persons of different cities.  xenial relationship  xenial customs ( as per Webster)

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha

Author:  Arthur Golden

Genre: Fiction

Publication: Vintage Books

Arthur Golden studied Art History, specialising in Japanese arts at the Harvard College and anchored that up with Masters degree from the Columbia University in Japanese History. He later went onto work in Tokyo Japan for a short stint, before returning to the US.



9-year-old Chiyo and her older sister Satsu Sakamato are taken away from their home in a small fishing village and sold off to different Okiya in the Gion district of Kyoto, Japan. Chiyo is miserable and tries to escape to be with her sister but ends up breaking her arm. The main Geisha of the Okiya – Hatsumomo, takes an intense dislike to this grey-eyed beauty and spares no effort to persecute her.

She tricks her into ruining an expensive Kimono belonging to a famous Geisha – Mameha who incidentally is Hatsumomo’s rival. Chiyo is  beaten up and her status in the Okiya changes from trainee to maid as she is now in a huge debt with the mother of the Okiya. Pumpkin, the other trainee in the Okiya is taken under her wing by Hatsumomo who is now sure that Chiyo’s fate is doomed.

Chiyo happens to meet a kind handsome stranger who buys her sweet ice in an attempt to cheer her up. He wipes her tears and gives her his handkerchief and some money. The coins were enough to buy rice and fish for a month but Chiyo gives them away in prayer as she longs to be a Geisha now and enter the world of her handsome saviour.

“He was like a song I’d heard once in fragments but had been singing in my mind ever since.”― Arthur GoldenMemoirs of a Geisha

Somehow Mameha undertakes Chiyo’s training as a Geisha after negotiating a wager with her Okiya Mother. She re-names her Sayuri and her debut is flawless and marvelled by all. She is suddenly the most sought after Geisha, much to Hatsumomo’s grief. Hatsumomo now takes to stalking Sayuri and Mameha from one tea house to another and spreads gossip about Sayuri’s character to dissuade bidders on her mizsuage (virginity).

“We don’t become geisha because we want our lives to be happy; we become geisha because we have no choice.” ― Arthur GoldenMemoirs of a Geisha

All her plans are foiled by the clever Sayuri and wise Mameha who now manages to negotiate a bidding on 15,000 Yen for her Mizsuage – highest ever for a Geisha. Sayuri longs to be with the Chairman (whom she recognizes as her handsome saviour) but is manipulated to be attentive to his friend Nobu.

Soon the second World War wrecks havoc on Japan, forcing everyone to search for shelter. Sayuri and Mameha are saved by the Chairman and Nobu. Once the war is over, the allied forces are being wooed by the Japanese business men to invest in their ventures. For this purpose Nobu seeks out Sayuri and Mameha to appease an US army colonel who is soon bewitched by Sayuri’s charms.

“We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill , going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course” ― Arthur GoldenMemoirs of a Geisha

Nobu wants Sayuri for himself but she refuses as she is in love with the Chairman. Rebuffed and hurt, Nobu leaves her to her fate. Sayuri understands that the chairman will never make a play for her as he knows of Nobu’s interests in her.

Disheartened she gives up all hope of ever being with him. One day her Okiya mother announces to her that Nobu has decided to be her danna ( a rich benefactor/boyfriend). Sayuri is dolled up and sent to meet him.

Will Sayuri accept Nobu as her danna? Has she really given up her dream on the Chairman? I guess you will need to read this book now to know more 😉

Lasting impression on me:

Arthur Golden has brought alive the world of Geisha’s in the 1930s of Japan when the economy was good for them. Geisha literally translates into artist; they spend hours painting their faces with makeup which renders them looking like dolls. Every movement they make is full of finesse and grace – all of it learnt through rigorous and tedious training.

I have never explored Japanese culture though books and movies and this one was an eye opener for me. To me Japan was synonymous with Cherry blossoms, Matcha tea and Zen gardens.  This books leads you down the maze of Geisha customs, house rivalries and the politics behind the making of a Geisha.

A  geisha is no ways should be confused with a prostitute as she provides company for entertainment and is a constant companion to the high-profile business men of Japan. A geisha is not a wife either.

“To a man, geisha can only be half a wife. We are the wives of nightfall.” ― Arthur GoldenMemoirs of a Geisha

I loved the feel of reading this romantic tale of a 9-year-old girl who falls for a much older man, simply because he was so kind to her. Her journey in becoming a Geisha is motivated with a desire to enter his world and belong to him. I loved how she found hope in her life of misery and works from there on to reach her goals.

Despite many odds and turns ( in guise of Hatsumomo, Nobu, etc) she continues her journey and even comes back from the dead to resurrect as a Geisha once more to help the Chairman out.

I found reading about this world as fascinating as Harry potter – viewing cherry blossom trees in bloom, wearing silk kimonos, delicate fan movements, exotic tea ceremonies and learning to stop a man in his tracks with just one glance from you – all novel and fantastic concepts for me.

My rating:

I would say 4**** for this one and would recommend it to peeps who enjoy reading about different cultures and countries. There is a very well made film on this book too which does it immense justice and I would recommend it as a must watch.

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Have read a book on a different culture? Would you recommend it to me for a read please?


I am on a no-book-buying pact as I am pretty much broke; not to mention that I am running out of space as well!! But incase anyone wants to trade their books or send me gifts, please do check out my Wishlist on Amazon & Want to read on Goodreads.

Coming up tomorrow is [Y] for Yarn-Chopper

For the uninitiated, AtoZ challenge is a blogging challenge wherein one has to write on every alphabet from A to Z and post on all days of April, except Sundays. Usually its better to devise a theme as it makes it easy to write the posts. Plus readers have a reason to stay hooked too.

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16 thoughts on “[X] Xenial – Memoirs of a Geisha #AtoZ | Book Review |

  1. This author has done deep research before writing this book so it is probably authentic. I would like to read this too. You’ve written another wonderful review and I will be coming back to your blog whenever I’m wondering what book to read next. I like to read books about different cultures – the most obvious one being the culture of England and America when we read books written in English. I read a translation of a Korean book called Please Look After Mom that gives insights into the Korean way of life.

    1. Yes the research is deep; infact he has studied so much of Japanese arts and history as his college major and then worked in Japan too ; so maybe he was in love with this culture and that love has translated into a well written book. I shall check out this korean book – thanks for the recco Kalpanaa.

  2. One of my favourite books, Shalini! I loved the way they made up their faces with rice powder, their elaborate hair styles, silk kimonos, the tea parties. The love that Sayuri feels for the Chairman is so pure and innocent. It is a beautiful read!

  3. Now this is a book I’ve read, relished and loved.
    You’re right about the film Shalini. It does justice to the book.
    The protagonist’s pathos reminded me of Bazaar, the film, when I was reading it.
    X is for Xavier’s college canteen

  4. I have read this book about a decade ago and remember being fascinated with the Japanese culture and geishas and their lives. I think I must re-read it again and watch the movie too!

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