Thursday, July 21, 2016

Classics Club 29: The Makioka Sisters

Junichiro Tanizaki's slow-moving novel is set in Japan in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Rather than highlighting  the political issues of the time it instead focuses on the lives of four sisters from a once affluent family whose fortunes are now somewhat in decline.

The main plot line focuses on efforts to find a husband for Yukiko, the second youngest sister but it also offers a broader insight into  the everyday lives of middle class Japanese women and their families of this time - everything from  firefly hunting expeditions, blossom viewing, dance recitals, letter writing  and household management. Through reading the novel I gained many insights into everyday Japanese life - the role of family in finding and vetting potential suitors, the fact that husbands might take their wives' surnames, family dynamics such as younger sisters not typically marrying until all their older sisters had husbands.

I found the youngest sister, Taeko, the most interesting - possibly because she was the most complex and also potentially the most flawed - certainly she suffers the most for her flaws in the novel. At the beginning I liked the way she seemed to seize control of her own life- developing a career and having relationships rather than just waiting until her sister married so a husband could then be found for her. As the novel progressed her decision making appeared less wise and her character less go-getting and more self-serving.

The Makioka Sisters has sometimes been referred to as Japan's version of Pride and Prejudice. While there are some superficial similarities (sisters seeking husbands) I feel the comparisons are overdone. There is no character akin to Mr Darcy and certainly no sparks between Yukiko and any of her potential suitors. Most of Taeko's relationships take place outside the pages of the novel so it is hard for the reader to judge them. Tanizaki matter-of-factly reveals many intimate details about the sisters - periods and detailed accounts of diarrhea during bouts of illness. Such details would never have featured in an Austen novel. Different time periods and different cultures.

The ending felt rather abrupt and unfinished.  While a husband does appear to have finally been found for Yukiko, the wedding has not yet occurred and she seems neither happy nor excited. In some ways this was unsatisfying but in other ways it fitted with the tone of the novel.

This novel is an addition to my original Classics Club list and is my pick for the "Classic by a Non-White Author" category in Books and Chocolate's Back to the Classics Challenge 2016. I confess to never having heard of the novel or the author before I went in search of something to read for this category. I'm so glad I discovered The Makioka Sisters though. Not only was it an enjoyable read but it introduced me to a culture I previously knew little about.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. I always felt for Yukiko. Maybe she was really feudal, and thought that it is more becoming in a woman never to talk, or express her character, or put herself forward at all. And the guys were more modern, looking for a personality in a mate, of all things!