Junichoro Tanizaki is one of the Japanese literary giants of the twentieth century. I was invited to a book club where the book under review was his The Makioka Sisters.
This is the story of 4 sisters, the daughters of an Osakan merchant, whose family wealth and status is dwindling in the 1930s. I was not alone in finding it a hard read. A friend of mine who worked in fashion with a Japanese importer and often travelled to the country observed to me that if there is direct line between two conversations points a Japanese will get there by slow concentric circles.
This certainly applies to Tanizaki.
It takes him one whole chapter to write that one of the sisters has a spot above her lip that is benign but appears at the wrong time. He is also obsessed by illness. At various points in the novel a sister get pleurisy, has a miscarriage, nearly dies of what might be a sexually-transmitted disease and in the very last paragraph one of the sisters travels on the train to Tokyo and has an attack of diarrhoea.
Nothing too much happens by way of plot other than that to the four Sisters.
The eldest is married with four children and lives in Tokyo. The second lives in Osaka and has one daughter. The other two younger ones live in Osaka with their sister and are unmarried and the efforts to marry off the third is constant feature of the novel.
This proves a long drawn out process when the family first meet the prospective groom, due diligence is undertaken but there is some defect preventing marriage or the Makiokas overate their eligibility.
In the third daughter’s case this is also shadow cast by the free-spirited fourth who makes her own career.
Oddly enough the one area you might think of interest, the war in Manchuria and the global designs of Emperor Hirohito, hardly get a mention.
This is ironic as a newspaper refused to serialise the book as it was deemed to detract from the war spirit. I cannot honestly recommend this book unless you want to learn more about Japanese society in the thirties. Strangely his other novels, which I have not read, are sex obsessed.
The modern giant is Murakami whose novels are rich in imagination.