08 September 2014

Book Review - The Makioka Sisters

Last week's visit to the library was a bit of a mixed bag. A couple of books I didn't bother finishing; I really didn't feel they were worth my time or effort. But I got a couple of winners. The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki was one of them.

The Makioka Sisters tell the story of four Japanese sisters, living in the Osaka region as WWII breaks out. They come from a reasonably wealthy family that has fallen on harder times. The two oldest are married. Traditionally, the unmarried sisters should live with the oldest, but they choose (as much as possible) to live with the second sister. The story is essentially about their efforts to find a husband for the third sister, Yukiko, and is told mainly from the point of view of the second sister, Sachiko.

The novel was originally published as three books, and is quite long. There are a number of side stories, that don't really do much to move the main story along. It certainly wasn't a 'cant put it down' book.

What I enjoyed most about this story is that it is not a current book written by a Western author. It is a Japanese novel. It was written by a Japanese author in the early 1940s. Although the English version is a translation of the Japanese novel, it's not an "interpretation" of Japanese society by an outsider, to the time period or the to the society.

The insight this novel, therefore, gives to Japanese thinking and culture at the time of the Second World War is fascinating. The youngest sister is a bit of a rebel, but it is acceptable for her to have an art studio, to work every day, and, eventually, to have her own apartment. There is some concern that she may become a 'professional' woman, actually supporting herself entirely by her own efforts, and chose not to marry. All four sisters regularly travel considerable distances by themselves on public transport. All children attend school, a number of the women in the story attend university.

There is also wonderful insight into the regional differences in Japan, which I had no idea existed. To me, and I'm sure to many Westerners, Japan is a just "Japan", a single country. But this story highlights the differences in culture, food and language, particularly between Osaka and Tokyo.

I enjoyed this book and I'll be looking out for more works by the same author.

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