Jun’ichiro Tanizaki: 痴人の愛 (Naomi)

naomi

The latest addition to my website is Jun’ichiro Tanizaki‘s 痴人の愛 (Naomi). This was Tanizaki’s first full-length novel, written when he had moved away from Yokohama after the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. It tells the story of Joji Kawai, a serious young man with a good job in Tokyo who falls for a young woman – she is fifteen when he first sees her – who has come from a poor background and is now working as a waitress in a café. Joji initially says he is going to protect her and pay for her to study (English and music) but it is clear that his real reason is sexual attraction. She is clearly a very attractive young woman, with something of a Eurasian look – Joji thinks that she looks a bit like Mary Pickford – and Joji, while initially happy with her, will soon find that many other men are attracted to her. Naomi is looking for a good time, which means dancing, parties, fine, generally Western-style clothes and good food. All of this costs money, but his main problem is that he is sixteen years older than her and she calls him Papa and there are plenty of men closer to her age who are happy to take her dancing. It was something of a risqué novel for the period, though very tame by our standards but still an interesting novel about how a man can fall in love with a woman to the extent that he is prepared to make any sacrifice to keep her.

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki: 猫と庄造と二人の女 (A Cat, A Man and Two Women)

cat

The latest addition to my website is Jun’ichiro Tanizaki‘s 猫と庄造と二人の女 (A Cat, A Man and Two Women). I read some Tanizaki many years ago so now is the time to reread those ones I read before and read those, like this one, I had not read before. This is certainly not one of his greatest works but it is fun, telling the story of a feckless man and his cat. Shozo loves his cat, Lily, but seems less devoted to both wife number one – Shinako – and wife number two – Fukuko. When he divorces Shinako to marry Fukako, Shinako, despite the fact that she does not really like the cat, persuades Fukako to make Shozo give her the cat. Shozo reluctantly agrees but is devastated at losing her and tries to see her without either Shinako or Fukuko finding out. But, as any cat owner knows, there is only going to be one winner here.

Minae Mizumura: 本格小説 新潮社 (A True Novel)

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The latest addition to my website is Minae Mizumura‘s 本格小説 新潮社 (A True Novel). This book has been very well received both in Japan and elsewhere and, perhaps not surprisingly, had appeared in other European languages before appearing in English earlier this year. It was worth the wait. It is a superb Japanese take on the Wuthering Heights story, but told in that languid style that the Japanese (used to) do so well. It has the Cathy-Heathcliff tragic love affair but is also an exploration of memory and the past, the joys of the Japanese countryside, complex family relations and the nature of the novel. Minamura, who has lived and taught in the United States and is familiar with Western literature, tells the story of a novelist called Minae Mizumura who tells the story told to her by a young man who got much of it from a Japanese woman, about Taro Azuma, a man who had a difficult early life but managed to get himself to the United States and, by dint of hard work and brain power, became very rich, all the while struggling with reconciling himself with his past, which included his Japanese birth and Yoko, his Cathy Earnshaw. Some critics have said that it is too long and too slow. I was not bored for a minute and enjoyed every word of it. I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in the modern novel.

Ruth Ozeki

meats
The latest additions to my website are two books by Ruth Ozeki. The first is My Year of Meats, a very witty and somewhat polemic attack on various things – sexism, racism, the US obsession with guns and, in particular, the meat industry. It tells two stories of two women in parallel. The first, clearly based on the author, is Jane Takagi-Little, a documentary film maker who gets a job working on a TV programme called American Wife, to be shown in Japan, with the not very subtle intention of promoting meat-eating. Each episode shows a typical, wholesome (i.e. white, middle class) US family, ending up with their eating meat. Jane tries to subtly sabotage this by showing other types of families (Hispanic, African-American, a handicapped child and, finally, a Lesbian couple). The other story concerns Akiko, wife of Joichi Ueno, the advertising executive in Japan, with whom Jane has to deal. He is a sexist, racist bully, drinks, abuses and rapes his wife and and even tries to rape Jane, though preferring big-breasted Texan women. However, Ozeki’s mocking is generally mild, till she gets to the meat industry later in the book, when she lets loose. Meat eaters might want to turn away at this point. However, it is a very funny book, with some serious points to make

tale
The second book is A Tale for the Time Being, her latest book. As with My Year of Meats, this tells two stories, one of a American woman (called Ruth) and one of a Japanese woman, only this Japanese woman is a sixteen year old, called Naoko (Nao). Ruth, who lives by the sea in British Columbia with her husband, Oliver (like her creator) finds washed up a Hello Kitty box containing Nao’s dairy, some letters and an old watch. She slowly reads the diary, learning about Nao’s somewhat difficult life. Nao’s father had worked for a US dotcom but the dotcom had gone bust and he had all his money invested in stock options. He has been unable to find a job in Japan and is suicidal. Nao does not fit in at the Japanese school and is cruelly bullied. Her one comfort becomes her great-grandmother, Jiko, a one hundred and four year old nun. Ruth and Oliver, meanwhile, are worried that Nao might have been killed in the Fukushima disaster. Despite strenuous efforts to find out, they come up with very little. While still somewhat polemical, particularly on environmental issues, Ozeki introduces more philosophical ideas, such as the issue of time, quantum physics and 9/11. The book has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is a very worthy contender.