Posts tagged as:

Japanese literature

I recently finished an exasperating read: an unhappy couple can’t bring themselves to divorce. If they part during the spring, it will color every spring. If they tell her father…if they tell their son….

The book is “Some Prefer Nettles”, by Junichiro Tanizaki, Vintage International, $13.95, translated by Edward G. Seidensticker.

51pqrc339nlI loved it. The book brings an old world to life, the story is thoughtful and unpredictable. Best of all: it made me think.

Written and set in the late 1920’s, the story is a confessional: its author offered his wife to a friend, who accepted. He didn’t dislike her; she didn’t interest him sexually.

Or does she? When the story opens, husband Kaname catches the scent of his wife’s perfume, the care and attention she takes with her dress, the feeling of her hand against his neck as she helps him dress. He professes a steadfast belief in their “modern marriage”, but it bothers him that Misako sees her lover more often and for many days in a row.

As the story unfolds, it’s clear that no woman can fulfill him: Kaname is attracted — and repelled — by every woman. The prostitute he frequents is too modern, his father in-law’s young mistress is luscious but schooled in Old World arts and manners.

Kaname and his travels are the bulk of the story, but my heart went out to Misako. If her father finds out about her affair, he could disown her. When she leaves, she’ll lose her son. And if she waits too long to leave, her lover’s family could decide her unworthy of their son.

She is the property of men.

When her father learns of the affair, the couple finally act. They go to Kyoto to meet with him, even though Misako protests. After all, her fate is to be decided by her father and her husband. Once there, her father takes her to dinner; Kaname is left with the mistress.

The ending is so provocative, it took me several re-readings and days to figure it out. Too, it sent me to the translator’s notes. There he writes that Tanizaki is purposely vague. “Do not try to be too clear; leave gaps in the meaning.”

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

The New York Times ran a breezy piece recently about summer reads aimed at women. I turned to it excitedly: I’m a girl, I love to read. Surely there’d be something on the list for me. Nope.

What to read during the summer? Do we really seek out “lighter” reads in the warmer months? I don’t.

512j2j57yjl2Here’s a list of books I love that are by, for or about women.

  • The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki, translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker, (Vintage, $15.95). Nothing and everything happens in this big read set in Osaka after World War Two. Clinging to ancient ways, two sisters try to place Yukiko in a proper, aristocratic marriage — increasingly difficult as she ages. Another sister brazenly takes on lovers. Lovely descriptions of various regions, and ways of life, in postwar Japan.
  • Anne Sexton: A Biography, by Diane Wood Middlebrook, (Vintage, $17.95). The poet Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was celebrated in her time for her confessional poetry. Middlebrook knows poetry and poets; her “reading” of Sexton’s poems is smart and digestible. This is a deeply affecting life story that reads more like a novel than the scholarly work that it is. (Recommended by my friend Jennifer.)
  • Vita: The Life of V. Sackville-West, by Victoria Glendinning, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, buy used). Vita’s gardens, homes, marriage, lovers, and writings made her a legend in her own time (1892-1962). Virginia Wolff was among her lovers, and Vita’s Sissinghurst Castle is said to be the most visited garden in all of England. I didn’t want this book to end: what a life! (Pressed on me by my friend Suzanne, lent in a plastic bag, bound by a rubber band.)
  • The New Yorkers, by Cathleen Shine, (Picador, $14). An ensemble piece set on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. People, and dogs, get together, fall in love, and fall apart. A rich read, with a surprisingly sweet, and fitting, end.
  • The Great Man, by Kate Christensen, (Anchor, $14.95). A textured story of the women left behind after a famous artist’s death: his widow and their autistic son, his mistress and their twin daughters, and his sister, who’s also a painter. A window into the New York art world, and a rare depiction of older women. (Thanks, Jennifer, for recommending.)

{ Comments on this entry are closed }