Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An insight to another world

I'm running very late with my report on book-buying for April. I bought only one book...but what a book!


One of the widely-read members of my very widely-read book group suggested reading Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters (written between 1943 and 1948). Reading this book was one of those experiences that made me feel rather stupid and culturally myopic. First of all, I felt embarrassed I didn't know the works of Tanizaki at all (though he is apparently one of the most widely read Japanese authors of the first half of the twentieth century), and secondly, that I had never encountered this wonderful novel.

For once, whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry for Tanizaki got it absolutely right in describing Tanizaki's work as 'complex, ironic, demure, and provocative'. One of my book group likened The Makioka Sisters to Jane Austen's novels and, unlikely as this sounds, this also is absolutely right. It's a novel of relations between sisters of different characters and preferences. It's a novel where marriage prospects, and money, and connections, and reputation, and honour, are the subjects of obsessive forensic examination. It's a novel where the life of each sister inevitably affects the prospects of the others. See what I mean? All very Jane Austenish, but set in Japan in the years leading up to the second world war.

Another characteristic the novel shares with Austen is that it's set in a period of great social change when world-shaping events were occurring in the broader society, but where the focus is on the minutiae of day-to-day life. As a reader you gradually realise that the 'China Incident' referred to in passing from time to time (usually as an excuse for not engaging in an excessively ostentatious exchange of gifts or hospitality) is the horror of the second Sino-Japanese war.

As well as enjoying this book as a novel it had all the fascination of an excellent ethnography where I felt as if I'd been given an insight to another world view that has quite different 'taken for granteds' from the world I normally inhabit. I'm recommending it to all and sundry.


Rose Red said...

It sounds fantastic Lyn. I don't know much about the China Incident either, I shall have to read up on my history as well.

DrK said...

oh well, top of the list then! sounds fantastic!