Golden puts to good use his studies of Japanese culture at Harvard and Columbia in this story of Sayuri, sold into slavery at a geisha house in 1929, who finds that she's on her own when World War II starts. The 75,000-copy first printing says a lot about the publisher's commitment to this debut novel.
The life of a famous Kyoto geisha‘from her painful apprenticeship in the early 1930s through the years of her prime and her later career in Manhattan‘is 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 that‘defying Western expectations‘does 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.)
"Astonishing . . . breathtaking . . . You are seduced completely." --Washington Post Book World"Captivating, minutely imagined . . . a novel that refuses to stay shut." --Newsweek"A story with the social vibrancy and narrative sweep of a much-loved 19th century bildungsroman. . . . This is a high-wire act. . . . Rarely has a world so closed and foreign been evoked with such natural assurance." --The New Yorker