Love Stories Part 3: Sayuri, Nobu and the Chairman


Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautifully written novel by Arthur Golden which was made into a visually stunning movie directed by Rob Marshall. I enjoyed both versions immensely.

Chiyo and her sister, Satsu, are sold by their father as it becomes apparent that their mother’s health is rapidly deteriorating. He is not a young man, either, and while this might seem to be a callous thing to do, I believe he hoped to give them a better life. However, it doesn’t work out for Satsu as well as it does for Chiyo. The sisters are split, Satsu fated for a brothel and Chiyo handed over to Mother, head of the Nitta okiya.

It’s not an easy life for Chiyo. She agrees to become an apprentice geisha, attending school with her friend, Pumpkin. From the first moment they met, Hatsumomo dislikes Chiyo, perhaps sensing the girl as a future rival. As the leading geisha, making the most money, Hatsumomo is in a position of power and she makes it her mission to make life hell for Chiyo, especially after Chiyo catches Hatsumomo in a clandestine affair with someone beneath the geisha’s status. Chiyo confesses to Mother about discovering the affair and Hatsumomo is forbidden from seeing Koichi, her lover, ever again. Unable to endure Hatsumomo’s cruelty, Chiyo plans to runaway with Satsu. However, the night she was to meet Satsu, Chiyo falls from the roof of the okiya in her attempt to escape, incurring Mother’s anger and even more debt that must be worked off. Chiyo is also no longer allowed to be trained as a geisha.

Years pass. Chiyo’s life is one of a servant, she runs errands and does chores while Pumpkin continues her education. One day, Chiyo meets a business man, known as the Chairman, who cheers her up by purchasing shaved ice and gives her a handkerchief with money in it. From that moment on, Chiyo vows to become a geisha in order to be in the Chairman’s life. Filled with purpose, Chiyo donates the money to a shrine and prays. She keeps the handkerchief as a memento.

Not long after, in what seems to be an act of fate, Chiyo becomes an apprentice to the popular geisha, Mameha, and her training begins once more. With the transition of becoming a geisha, Chiyo is given the name Sayuri, and she is introduced into geisha society and customers. Her heart soars when, after so many years, she once more meets the Chairman. Sayuri feels that finally she will be with the man she loves. As Sayuri starts making her rounds to teahouses and accompanying Mameha to events, she catches the eye of several men, one being the Chairman’s friend, Nobu.

In order not to spoil this novel for those of you who haven’t read it, I won’t venture into detail but I do want to say that as the novel progresses, a triangle between Nobu, Sayuri and the Chairman forms, one that really tore at my heart. I rooted for one, wanting Sayuri to find the happiness that she deserved but there came a part, near the end where I was sure she was making the wrong choice. I was so involved that I yelled at the book and tossed it onto my nightstand where I glared at it for several minutes before picking it and continued reading. I will also state that I was very happy with the end.

Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautiful novel, feeling like a fairytale and a true memoir. Arthur Golden created a truly captivating story, one not easy to put down and I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t done so already.

This concludes my Love Stories series, I hope you all have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and sharing my favorite fictional love stories with you. 🙂 Happy Valentine’s Day to you all.

12 responses »

  1. Melissa, if you weren’t so busy writing fantastic stories, I’d tell you that you need to be a book reviewer! I love how you’re able to convey how much you enjoyed a novel, and make me feel like I should read it right away as well. This one is definitely going on my to-read list. I love those novels that make you bite your nails and sit on the edge of your seat, desperate to know what happens next.

  2. I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve heard it’s fantastic and this just prodded me even more to read it. I hope school gives me a break soon so I actually have time to read great books like this =)

  3. I agree with Miranda. I haven’t read the book, but I did see the movie, yet your review is so well-written that if someone were to ask me what I think of the story, I’d quote your review! Great job!

  4. I really loved this book! BUT, I lost a little respect for Golden when I found out that he outed the name of his source (he interviewed many retired geisha for the book) because his publisher wouldn’t print it otherwise. Well, the geisha community found out, and the woman who told him some of the things that happen in the geisha world was ousted. I believe she actually had to leave Japan. Could just be rumor though, I don’t have the time to check right now.

    I didn’t like the movie, at all. I loved Nobu as a character, and though the actor was wonderful, the movie failed to go beyond the surface level, because of how much they changed his character for the screen. I also didn’t like that they didn’t hire Japanese actresses for the two main female roles (and people in Japan were pretty upset about it too).

    Sorry for my complaining, but I was like “Ooo! Ooo! I can talk about this, too!” Haha.

    • Wow! How awful for that to happen! And that makes me a bit angry that she wasn’t allowed to remain an anonymous source and she was expelled from the geisha community once it became known she had talked with Golden. And her privacy should have been respected because she really went out on a limb being interviewed. I’m sorry that happened.

      I enjoyed the movie, but you’re right about the lack of depth of Nobu’s character, which was disappointing as he was one of my favorite characters in the novel. I did think that was strange, that the two main actresses were not Japanese (although I do love Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang) and I can imagine that there was an uproar. If I remember correctly (and that’s a big if, lol) the same sort of uproar happened when it was discovered that Renee Zellweger was chosen to portray Bridget Jones in the movie adaptations of the novels.

      No need to apologize, lol. 🙂 I always enjoy discussing books with other bibliophiles.

      • I think most of the uproar happened because so much of the Asian community already believes that Americans can’t tell the different ethnicities apart (I was actually on TV in Japan, and that was one of the topics). The general idea is that Americans think “they’re all the same”, and this is doubly bad because right now, none of the Asian countries are really getting along with one another. It would be sort of like Americans being called British, and “interchangeable” on screen.

        I heard about the Bridget Jones bit… I never knew why though. Was it because Bridget was supposed to be “heavier”? I think that’s what it was…

      • Well, I can certainly understand the uproar. And I would have thought that they would have cast Japanese actresses for Sayuri and Mameha.

        I’m not exactly sure what the issue was with Renee Zellweger playing Bridget, either.

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