World Reading Rec #5

Remember when I told you guys about my project to read a book from every country in the world, and I said I was going to write about all the awesome books I'd read? And I did for awhile, but then spring break happened, and I forgot for, oh, six months? Yeah. I'm going to start posting about books again.

Uploaded with Snapbucket The Makioka Sisters
by Junichiro Tanizaki

Countries represented: Japan

How I found this book: Recommendation from my students in Japan

Review: I liked so many things about this book that it's hard to figure out what to say first. The Makioka Sisters is the story of the 4 sisters of a once-aristocratic family whose fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. The novel is really a slice of every day family life, but the search for a husband for Yukiko, the troublesomely unmarried third sister, provides enough structure to keep the plot moving. Something about this novel feels very authentic. The sisters come complete with quirks, daily routines and inside jokes. In another author's hands, this procession of daily moments might have been dull but Tanizaki made me feel wrapped in the warmth of a real family. At times, the sisters' tranquil lives are interrupted by illness and natural disasters, but they're written in a low-key way that reminds us that near-tragedies are also a reality of every day life. Most of the book is told from the perspective of Sachiko, the thoughtful but sometimes timid second sister who provides a home for the two younger, unmarried siblings. Through her thoughts, we learn about the characters of the other 3 sisters and gain an understanding of Japanese family dynamics. The many passages of formal Japanese marriage negotiations are fascinating. Sometimes I wished there had been more passages from the other sisters' points of view because although their actions are described in detail, the reasons for them remain opaque. Still, I think I appreciate Tanizaki's strategy here -- in families, it's rare to fully understand what anyone else is thinking. I recommend this book to people who want to learn more about Japanese culture, people who liked Jane Austen or Little Women and people who can accept a somewhat slow-paced novel.

The world lit factor: This book is historical fiction, so it's not a good way to learn about contemporary Japan. However, it is a fascinating examination of ancient Japanese traditions colliding with new Western influences. This author, and this book in particular, are also an important part of the Japanese literary canon, so it's a good introduction to Japanese literature.
What an awesome project! I hope you'll do a wrap-up post at the end of the year listing all the books and linking to your posts on each one :)

Edit: BTW I have added this to my to-read list...

Edited at 2012-11-14 01:31 am (UTC)