I never expected to be so enchanted with The Makioka Sisters. Every year, it seems, someone participating in the Japanese Literature Challenge either reads it, or mentions it, and yet I have not begun it until this year. Surely this is one of the ways that blogging enriches our reading: by sharing what we have read with one another.
In Book One we are introduced to the four sisters, and I must confess that at first I had some trouble keeping them straight. There is the eldest, Tsuruko, who manages the family’s main house in Osaka since their father’s death. Sachiko is the second eldest, a married woman with a daughter named Etsuko, with whom the two youngest sisters prefer to live in Ashiya. The third daughter is Yukiko, the one who must marry before her younger sister, Taeko can marry. However, it is proving to be quite a difficulty to find Yukiko a husband. Already, by the close of Book I, two suitors have been dismissed; the first, for having a mother with dementia (does insanity run in the family?), the second for being too old.
I enjoy the mood Tanizaki creates, reminding me of the quiet elegance in Japan which I so adore, and in which my American self so sorely stood out. (Even though I tried to be subdued.) Consider this passage about the sisters viewing the cherry blossoms, for which they have specially dressed:
And so, coming back from the western suburbs on the afternoon of the second day, and picking that moment of regret when the spring sun was about to set, they would pause, a little tired under the trailing branches, and look fondly at each tree – on around the lake, by the approach to a bridge, by a bend in the path, under the eaves of the gallery. And, until the cherries came the following year, they could close their eyes and see again the color and line of a trailing branch.
“…picking that moment of regret when the spring sun was about to set…” I love that phrase! It even reminds me of Guerlain’s perfume, L’Heure Bleu, describing the moment of a Parisian day when dusk is beginning at “the blue hour.” There is so much atmosphere, in my mind, that Tanizaki is able to convey.
I felt, while I was reading, no small amount of frustration with Yukiko. At first, I figured she was just being demure. She would cast her eyes down, and remain silent, during the attempts at her marriage arrangements. But, at the end of Book I, I had a sense that she was getting exactly what she wants. Does she even want to be married? Perhaps she is happy with her life as it is, being favored aunt of Etsuko, living comfortably with her sisters who seem to take care of her emotionally and physically.
“She keeps quiet and has everything her way,” said Sachiko. “Wait and see how she manages her husband.” (p. 150)
Are you as taken by the novel as I am? By the nuances of daily life, by the overly polite conversations between Itani, the hair-dresser/marriage arranger, and the Makioka sisters? Are you sensing a downfall imminent for them all? I am curious as to how your reading is going, and I wonder if you have felt any of the things I mentioned here, or have questions of your own?
Until March 17, then, when we talk about Book II.