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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review - The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki

I hadnt read any Japanese authors upto now and was not even slightly interested till I read the Japanese literature challenge and specially the posts on chasing bawa which got me so interested that I was determined to get my hands on even one book to start with.

The book is at a pace which may seem slow to some readers - but it is so in keeping with the characters of the book, the lifestyle of the four sisters and the general pace of upper middle class Japan of the time - so much so in fact that if it was fast paced the book would have been awkward to say the least.

Characterizations of the four sisters all different in their own way though all trying to maintain the honor and style of the Makioka name which is now long over but lives in their minds as fresh as yesterday. The sisters specially Sachiko feel that they must maintain standards and even if it means as in Tsuruko's case the happiness of a younger sister be blighted, honor and standards should prevail.

As in every family (almost) there is a black sheep in the form of Taeko who tries to be a professional woman earning her own income which for the other sisters is totally abhorent. The fact that in their eyes Taeko is also immoral because she not only associates with men of a lower class but that she has actually lived with two men and probably three is something that the other sisters cannot comprehend. The freedom of spirit that Taeko has for life and living is not something understood, accepted or condoned by the other sisters. The three sisters feel that sacrifices should be made for the sake of family and honor above all else and when Taeko goes beyond these strict boundaries, she should be disowned by the family.

The saga of the Makioka sisters details each persons lives individually. The problems of the eldest sister Tsuruko trying to manage a brood of six children on a limited budget - economies of a domestic nature being looked down on by the others disdainfully. The problems of an unmarried Yukiko who at 33 is an embarassment to the family as none of the proposals have worked and the astonishment they face when for the first time, it is the man who does the turning down of the proposal and not the Makioka sisters would be something very easy to understand for an Asian mind where marriage proposals are commonplace todate. The heartache of Sachiko who has only one child and longs for another, and who is trying to keep the whole family together on an even keel without anyone being hurt, and who also tries not to annoy or anger any of the sisters is a delicate balancing act hard to follow.

The "nice" ending for Yukiko with a marriage proposal working out very well is a bit too much like a fairy story! but it is balanced by Taeko's pregnancy and the tragic loss of the baby. A sort of good will prevail over it all.

Altogether a very readable book, one I couldnt possibly put down and quite a big one at that. An extremely enjoyable introduction for me to Japanese authors. Thank you Sakura.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I had The Makioka Sisters on my TBR shelf for many years but was too afraid to read it just in case it was too difficult (or too boring!) But it opened my eyes to how modern and relevant Japanese novels from the early 20th century could be especially as it chronicles the modernisation of Japan into what we know today. This year I'm going to try some Yukio Mishima who is famous for being a writer you either love or hate.

Mystica said...

I got a Murakami this afternoon and am delighted. I never saw Japanese authors before in my second hand bookshop. They were obviously there and it just needed a little fishing out!!! I am noting this authors name and am sure a book will turn up shortly.

Amused said...

I have read books set in Japan but I don't think I've read any books by Japanese authors yet. This one really sparks my interest though - thanks for turning me onto it!

Rebecca Reid said...

I agree that a faster-paced story tellonig style would have been quite awkward! The entire point of the tradition vs modern is that the traditions are so nice and slow-paced. You don't rush things.

I have to disagree about the "nice" ending. I thought Yukiko's marriage arrangement was the worst of all of the possibilities throughout the novel, and the novel ended with a sense of foreboding. I thought it was very sad and depressing as an ending because Yukikio was NOT going to be happy in that marriage, with a man who could not keep a job. It ended with diarrhea after all. That's not a fairy tale in my book!