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The Makioka Sisters
de Junichiro Tanizaki
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I think it would be fair to say that Tanazaki is the Charles Dickens of Japanese literature. Set in the run-up to WWII, ending in 1941, in Osaka, the primary plot is that an old upper class Osaka family is trying to marry off the youngest two of four daughters. Sounds straightforward enough, I know. But no, no, no my friends. The story provides a means, a glimpse, of the extraordinary set of social rules the Makioka must observe to both marry off the two girls and save face as well. The complex dance between sisters, between spouses and between a traditional family clinging to social norms which are becoming obsolete in a rapidly changing society is fascinating to witness. Tanazaki's prose illuminates the minutiae of considerations in a family determined to remain faithful to the rules of family hierarchy, social class, and saving of face. I was agonizing along with the family as possible suitors came and went. This book is a literary pleasure, a record of cultural history, and a reminder that change can be terribly difficult to navigate. So glad to have read this book!
A novel of utmost serenity contradicting the turmoil brewing within the Makioka family and Japan at the onset of WWII. What seemed to be a tale of sister bonding on the surface jeopardised by different, clashing personalities turned out to be a complicated family affair built upon reputation, pride, and long-gone wealth. This was often fraught with tension — taking shape in forms of jealousy, insecurity, ill-health, and submissiveness — and was a deep reflection of Japanese tradition especially on marriage and women's role in society.
Conservatism was a big part of the novel. This was often frustrating to read about due to its unfortunate and apparent presence in our society even today. How limiting it was I can't imagine being bred in such an environment despite one of the sisters being set apart as a "representation of modernism", ie., not wearing a kimono often, earning money for one's self, and the desire to get higher education (but even these felt like a farce as the book's twists negated some of these ideas rather described as "rebellion"). The constant search for the perfect husband, economically, physically, and mentally, for one of the sisters was also Austenesque.
The Makioka Sisters spoke of cherry blossoms, family dinners, and soft conversations. It also spoke of how being deeply unyielding with regards to family traditions may break a family. All these women were dependent on their husbands without any choice on the matter with the saving grace of having a heartwarming and aptly sentimental connection with each other (Sachiko particularly is the best of the sisters). The enduring quality of this novel was how it could be taken apart in so many ways yet you're still left with more to take apart. Absolutely memorable.
The second world war looms, but the Makioka sisters are concerned with social obligations, family ceremonies and marrying off the two youngest sisters, Yukiko and Taeko.
A wonderful book, full of the minutiae of life in a middle-class family in the Japan of the thirties.
The Makioka Sisters
Now here is something. A book of mind numbing detail. Pages and pages of it. Ritual, protocol and discipline. Sounds bad but it is wonderful. It is the story of 4 sisters in Japan from the turn of the 20th Century up to and into WW2. It is about their lives, the shape of their lives and the content of their lives.
It was not until I was a fair way into this book that I realised that the sisters live lives that were prescribed in the 1700's. They live in a world that is vanishing but they don't know it. It is only by oblique references that you can work out what's happening in the outside world. For that is where the rest of the world is - outside.
I liked very much that the picture that is built up in this book comes from the myriad of details that assails you from the get go.
As a picture of an era that is passing this makes The Remains of the Day look like an episode of The Simpsons
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In Osaka in the years immediately before World War II, four aristocratic women try to preserve a way of life that is vanishing. As told by Junichiro Tanizaki, the story of the Makioka sisters forms what is arguably the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century, a poignant yet unsparing portrait of a family-and an entire society-sliding into the abyss of modernity. Tsuruko, the eldest sister, clings obstinately to the prestige of her family name even as her husband prepares to move their household to Tokyo, where that name means nothing. Sachiko compromises valiantly to secure the future of her younger sisters. The unmarried Yukiko is a hostage to her family's exacting standards, while the spirited Taeko rebels by flinging herself into scandalous romantic alliances. Filled with vignettes of upper-class Japanese life and capturing both the decorum and the heartache of its protagonist, "The Makioka Sisters" is a classic of international literature.
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Classificació Decimal de Dewey (DDC)895.6344 — Literature Literature of other languages Asian (east and south east) languages Japanese Japanese fiction 1868–1945 1912–1945
LCC (Clas. Bibl. Congrés EUA)
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The focus is on the four Makioka sisters. Tsuruko is the oldest. Her husband has adopted the family name, and they are considered the head of the family and in charge of all important family decisions. Most of the novel concerns the second sister, Sachiko, who is also married. The two younger sisters, Yukiko and Taeko, live with Sachiko and her husband. The plot, such as it is, concerns the family's efforts to find a husband for Yukiko. Taeko already has a young man, but as the younger, she cannot marry until Yukiko marries. Sachiko is in charge of finding a husband for Yukiko, subject to approval by Tsuruko, of course. And what a lot of effort goes into finding a husband--matchmakers, investigations, meetings, and more meetings, all until some flaw is found, and the process starts all over again. We follow the family over several years, as one prospect after another is considered and rejected. There are lots of lovely family occasions, and life is serene and calm, but subtly in the background there are hints of a horrendous war fast approaching, in fact already ongoing in Manchuria.
Before rereading the book, I remembered little about it (other than the broad general plot), but I did remember one family excursion to go see fireflies. I remember being charmed by that. There are also annual excursions to view the cherry blossoms, visits to traditional Japanese theater, tea ceremonies and so on. Much is devoted to the mundane events of day to day living, so that at times it seems that not much is happening, but in the end a whole world is created and lived.
My 21st century persona occasionally became impatient about some of the minor dithering of these characters as they tried to make decisions--for example, there are pages devoted to whether Yukiko should meet a new potential suitor when she has a "spot" near her eye (which the doctor says will go away after she marries). But I still found it a book to become immersed in.
4 stars ( )