Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki

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“…I was taken in by Miss Naomi, but the truth is, it was my own foolishness.”

I couldn’t help but think of Contempt by Alberto Moravia as I was reading Naomi. Although the first is written by an Italian author, and the later is Japanese, both novels address marriage and the disaster it can become.

When Joji meets Naomi at the Diamond Cafe she is a teenager whom he sees as “ingenuous and naive, shy and melancholy…” He determines to make an educated woman out of her, a women who is knowledgeable in music and English, a woman who is refined and genteel. He pays for lessons, and her extensive wardrobe, and everything she desires even though he quickly runs through the savings account he has been so diligent about building. What he doesn’t expect is that she will become a rough, extravagant, insolent woman who takes advantage of him at every turn.

Their marriage quickly dissolves into shambles. At first he is unaware of her deceptions, the way that she carries on with other young men behind his back. But even when it all comes to light, he is unable to let her go. In fact, he completely debases himself so that she will continue to live with him; there is nothing he won’t do for her presence in his life.

It his hard to understand such sacrifice. Joji himself admits his foolishness, his powerlessness in the face of his obsession. And so we are left wondering about the influence of our emotions, thinking about the effect they can have in a relationship when one has forsaken himself for the object of his obsession.

 

Find TJ’s review at My Book Strings, Naomi’s review at Consumed by Ink, and My Carved Words‘ review.

 

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25 thoughts on “Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki”

    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed this one so much, Stu. There were quite a few references to Western culture in this novel, not only about style such as in clothes or homes, but in Naomi’s appearance. I wonder if Tanizaki was alluding to a negative influence of Western values?

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    1. I so enjoy book with a psychological point of view. They don’t necessarily have to be a “thriller”, in fact those often are a let down at the conclusion. But, if I close a book thinking about the deeper meanings an author has presented, I am a happy reader.

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  1. This sounds like a very powerful story.

    Based upon your commentary I do think it is realistic. I think that people do become obsessed with others and debase themselves. It seems to happen in our society.

    As you point out, emotions can overwhelm a person.

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    1. As I think about your comment, and the idea of obsession, a few films come to mind (rather than novels). Fatal Attraction is one, of course. But, I’m thinking about other books with an obsessive theme and all I can come up with is Madame Bovary…or even Anna Karenina. They gave their lives for love literally, whereas Joji “simply” gave his heart and soul. Oh, and savings account.

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  2. I’ve yet to read anything by Tanizaki, but his name came up in the comments and recommendations when I reviewed Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness earlier this year. I think I should check him out at some stage, especially given your references to Moravia’s Contempt (another book on my wishlist).

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    1. Tanizaki lived from 1886 to 1965, and Kawabata lived from 1899 to 1972, so I can see where the comparisons to the two came up simply from the time period in which they both lived. (They died when I was a young girl; imagine! I thought they were ancient!) They have a similar style of writing to me, very subtle as I mentioned to Stu above. You really have to think about the novel when you’ve finished, and probably I wrote a post too soon. But, I surely love the comments from fellow readers as they add so much to my appreciation of the literature. Should you wish to try this, Jacqui, it’s short and therefore not much of a time commitment, but well worth whatever time you do spend.

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    1. How interesting about the original title translating to “A Fool’s Love”! I’m so looking forward to your thoughts on this book; I probably would have not read it just now (it’s been sitting on my shelf for at least two years) had you not suggested it. But, I’m glad you did, and now that Stu has helped me uncover the aspect of Western influence I’m all the more intrigued by what Tanizaki had to say.

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  3. The many threads of love or consequences and one is pain.
    Do we know from the beginning where love will lead us?
    Obsession and its power.
    Thank you Bellezza.

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    1. Isn’t it interesting, and sad, how love can come with a varied amount of emotions? Love and pain often seem to be inextricably connected. This relationship was well worth reading about especially as I am so curious about Japanese (and Western) cultures.

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  4. Hi Bellezza, in reference to yours & stu’s conversation, ” I wonder if Tanizaki was alluding to a negative influence of Western values?” that would make sense, as it was a concern of this writer, in fact he discusses it in “In Praise of Shadows.

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    1. I can’t believe it took me until the comment section to realize that this is really what Tanizaki is getting at: as much as the obsessive quality of Joji’s love is Naomi’s preoccupation with Western values, and it is certainly to their demise. So sorrowful. Thanks for pointing out In Praise of Shadows which I have not read. Yet.

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  5. Tanizaki is subtle, funny, and devastating in Naomi. Both Joji and Naomi are slaves to their baser selves, and their characters are almost two-dimensional because of this, like three-dimensional people who have been warped by their respective perversions along a single trajectory. While I enjoyed reading it, the end is actually a bit depressing. I’d somehow expected Joji to wake up at some point.

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    1. I completely agree with you about how “both Joji and Naomi are slaves to their baser selves”. It’s easy to blame Naomi for taking advantage, or Joji for being a victim to his (sexual) obsession. But, ultimately I think they are both to blame for the dysfunctional relationship in which they find themselves at the conclusion of the novel.

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