The story starts off with an introduction by fictional translator, Jakob Haarhuis, who has interviewed and written the story of elderly ex-geisha Nitta Sayuri.
Sayuri’s story begins when she is a small child known as Sakamoto Chiyo living with her older sister and her elderly father and mother, whose health is rapidly deteriorating. As the family is falling apart and her father realises death is not far away for himself or his wife, he sells his daughters to a Okiya in Gion.
As Sayuri, a beautiful young girl with startling light grey eyes (still known at this point as Chiyo), reaches her destination she realises her much plainer sister will not be coming with her to begin her training as a Geisha.
Here we are introduced to the stories main characters. A small girl around Sayuri’s age who earns the nickname Pumpkin, the 3 ladies who run the Okiya – the head lady, cross, angry and mean Granny, 2nd in charge money-obsessed Mother and the lower ranked Auntie, and the malicious and snake-like Hatsumomo, who is the most beautiful and one of the most popular Geisha’s around.
Hatsumomo takes an instant dislike to Sayuri due to her unique and lovely looks and does everything in her power to drag her down and destroy her up-coming career. After being blamed for theft and destroying of property that Hatsumomo was behind, Sayuri breaks house rules and sets off to find her sister to run away. This leads to an accident, some injury and the end of Sayuri’s training.
Threatened with spending her life as a maid and holding on to the hope that she will one day meet again a distinguished man that she met briefly in the street, she is determined that she will find away to convince Mother to let her resume her training.
Eventually she finds saving grace in Hatsumomo’s sworn enemy Mameha, who is determined to see Sayuri to success as the most popular Geisha and drive Hatsumomo out of Gion.
The whole story is filled with ups and downs and frustrating struggles for a girl who was forced in to this terrifying and lonely life. In a place where you are constantly earning debts against yourself, where one slip up could see you earning a living as a maid or prostitute and where a girls virginity is sold to the highest bidder, you find yourself rooting for the poor little lost girl from the poverty-stricken town. Most definitely worth a read.