Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's Tuesday - How the Heck Did I Miss That Book?




I 'm feeling like a need a fix of some Japanese Literature, and there are so many books that I am only becoming aware of now. Some of you are participating in the Japanese Literature Challenge 4, and I am feeling sorry for myself that I have never participated in this challenge. I'm now on no new challenges restriction. Self-imposed, as I was making myself crazy.

I found these (2) books yesterday on Amazon. Have you read these? If so what did you think?




The four Makioka sisters lead very complicated, strenuous lives, although on the surface nothing much ever happens to them. Part of a fading Japanese aristocracy in the years leading up to World War II, they cannot escape the wide net of the family name--something always brings them back to the reality of "being a Makioka." Running out of money, living in falling-apart houses, growing older beneath the sunlight of the modern world, they do their best to preserve the rituals of the past. The two older sisters work diligently to arrange a marriage for the third sister, Yukiko. Desperate to find someone to take care of her, they keep lowering their standards. One night they find themselves out with a drunk, selfish crackpot who has no money, but who is supposed to be related to a man who works for an important utility company. The fact that he is even a candidate for their sister's hand is a sign of how far they have fallen.
There are other signs in this remarkable, utterly compelling Japanese epic. At one point, a flood overwhelms their small town of Osaka. The youngest sister, Taeko, is having tea at the impeccably decorated home where her sewing teacher, Mrs. Tamaki, lives with her son Hiroshi. When the rain first appears beneath the door,
the three were still rather enjoying themselves, shouting at each other in the best of spirits. They all had a good laugh when Hiroshi, reaching to grab the briefcase in which he had brought home his school books, bumped his head on the bobbing radio. But after perhaps a half hour, there came a moment when the three fell silent. Almost immediately, Taeko remembered afterwards, the water was above her waist. As she clutched at a curtain, a picture fell from over her head; the curtain had probably brushed against it. It was a picture Mrs. Tamaki was especially fond of.
Junichiro Tanizaki wrestled throughout his career with the idea of a country where tribes of aristocrats live as relics, grasping at the past through gestures, manners, small and intricate private laws. The narrative suspense of The Makioka Sisters is rooted in this single-minded nostalgia, this strict attention to the details of domestic life as the outer world becomes more and more incomprehensible. Pages are devoted to musing about whether Yukiko should "risk" meeting a potential husband when there is a spot above her eye--maybe she should play it safe and go to the doctor about it; maybe the potential husband will interpret it as bad luck. Tanizaki manages to make the struggle over this small, dark spot wildly compelling. I could not sleep until I discovered its fate. If epic literature is based in the dramatic and forward-moving narrative of a male hero's journey, The Makioka Sisters is a female epic of inaction--trying to figure out what to wear, crying for no reason at the same time every afternoon. With each perilous, pathetic step, the sisters are heroes setting out for the new world. They're like Odysseus, except without the ship and without the sea.

 Hardboiled and Hard Luck; Banana Yoshimoto

Like twins whose paths diverge dramatically, these two gentle stories share little beyond the mesmerizing voice of their creator. The surreal subject matter and dreamy narration of "Hardboiled" make it read rather like a bedtime story gone awry. When the young female narrator realizes that it's the anniversary of her lover's death, several curious events suddenly make sense: a stone from a creepy shrine that finds its way into her pocket; a fire at an udon shop where she'd just been eating; and a nighttime visitation by the ghost of a woman who committed suicide. "Harboiled" drags a bit, but "Hard Luck" is a pleasure, even if it's almost as downbeat as its predecessor. This time, a young female narrator is standing watch over her older sister, Kuni, whose brain is slowly dying after a cerebral hemorrhage. As their parents gradually lose hope for Kuni's recovery, the narrator makes her own peace by forging a bond with her sister's fiancé's brother. In this gemlike story, Yoshimoto (Goodbye Tsugumi) takes a subtle, graceful look at the relationship between the sisters and the fault lines in this grieving family, elevating her little book from fine to downright moving.

20 comments:

  1. The Makioka Sisters was my first foray into Japanese reading and I loved it. I have read other authors now but this book still remains my favourite.

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  2. Both are on my JLC4 tbr pile. I'll probably get to The Makioka Sisters first...

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  3. I've been meaning to try THE MAKIOKA SISTERS for years. Thanks for reminding me about it. I came across it in a bookstore once and decided not to get it, but I loved the look of it. May have to go find it now. Thanks, Diane.

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  4. I like the sound of the Makioka sisters. The storyline sound brilliant.

    I have a Yoshimoto book on my shelves waiting to be read.

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  5. OMG, the Makioka Sisters...that is the book I have been looking for all summer. I know it will have everything I want in a poolside read. Thanks for posting this!

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  6. I have heard amazing things about The Makoika Sisters and think it sounds like a book I would absolutely love! I do hope you get the chance to read them! I have also always wanted to read a Yoshimoto book as well.

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  7. Mystica, JoAnn, Kay, Viv and Connie, your comments are making me all the anxious for the Makioka Sisters. I need to see how much I can get a copy for...LOL

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  8. They're both new to me, but I really do want to read something by Banana Yoshimoto.

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  9. Unfortunately i havent heard of any of these books but from reading everyone's comments, it seems as though i am missing out on a real treat. I'll have to go looking for a copy of The Makioka Sisters soon!

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  10. The Makioka Sisters sounds really good. I haven't heard of it before.

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  11. I haven't read either of these (although I've read other works by Banana Yoshimoto). These are perfect for the JLC-4. :)

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  12. I haven't read any of these. And I understand the no more challenges restriction!

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  13. The Makioka Sisters looks fabulous! I want to check it out now!

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  14. I haven't heard of either of these, but the Japanese book sounds very good.

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  15. I hadn't heard of The Makioka Sisters before reading your post - I've added it to my list. As for Yoshimoto, I have not read this one, but I have read Kitchen, which I liked.

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  16. The Makioka Sisters is a wonderful book and should be more widely read.

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  17. I liked Kitchen by Banana..so I would like to read both of these. Especially because I enjoy books set in Japan.

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  18. I love the Makioka Sisters-I thought this remark you made was really brilliant "Junichiro Tanizaki wrestled throughout his career with the idea of a country where tribes of aristocrats live as relics, grasping at the past through gestures, manners, small and intricate private laws"-this same theme is totally developed in one of his earlier novels, Some Prefer Nettles"

    I think the Yoshimoto work you reviewed is one of her better works and is the only one I am aware of that deals directly with Lesbian relationships

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  19. Mel...I didn't read either of these, I said I want to. The reviews are from the Amazon website (not mine).

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