THE MAKIOKA SISTERS by Junichiro Tanizaki

makioka-sistersThis is a novel by Japanese writer Jun’ichirō Tanizaki that was serialized from 1943 to 1948. It follows the lives of the wealthy Makioka family of Osaka from the autumn of 1936 to April 1941, focusing on the family’s attempts to find a husband for the third sister, Yukiko. It depicts the decline of the family’s upper-middle-class, suburban lifestyle as the specter of World War II and Allied Occupation hangs over the novel.

I stole that from Wiki because I have no shame.   Here’s more:

The novel’s title, Sasameyuki (細雪?), means lightly falling snow and is also used in classical Japanese poetry. The image suggests falling cherry blossoms in early spring—a number of poets confess to confusing falling cherry blossoms with snow. Falling cherry blossoms are a common symbol of impermanence, a prevalent theme of the novel. The “yuki” (雪 snow?) in Sasameyuki is the same as the yuki in Yukiko’s name, suggesting that she is the central character of the novel.

These nuances do not translate well into English. The translator, Edward Seidensticker, struggled over the title. Translations like “Fine Snow” and “Snow Flurries” do not convey the elegance or layers of meaning in the Japanese title.

It is the story of a family over a period of years,  and although the concerns of the family — what would people think,  trying to marry the daughters off in age order, illnesses, illicit affairs, business problems, are presented from the viewpoint of the Japanese culture, they really are universal in theme.  Of course, if you want to get more academic about it, you can see that “decline and decay are prominent themes of The Makioka Sisters and are emphasized by the repetition of certain events. The succession of Yukiko’s suitors, the Makiokas’ yearly cherry-viewing excursions, and the increasing severity of illness in the novel form a pattern of “decline-in-repetition”.

In reaction to this decline, the characters long for an idealized past—they attempt to remain connected to their past through yearly rituals and observances.  The Makiokas’ adherence to these rituals connects them to the traditions of the Edo-period merchant class and reflects Tanizaki’s belief that the Edo-period culture had been preserved in Osaka.”

And yeah, there’s  a Sparknotes on it, and it was made into a movie in 1983.

It is a very long book, at times a teensy weensy bit tedious in its minuteness, interspersed with sections of great activity. This is due to it’s serialization.  Think Dickens.   There are four sisters, the the two oldest married with children, the parents are both deceased, and the basic story concerns the efforts of the siblings to get the third daughter married so that the youngest, who has a boyfriend and wants to get married, can wed.  But the third daughter is very picky, and very very shy, unwilling even to talk on the telephone.  She turns down any number of suitable matches for one reason or another, and as she grows older and rather out of the age for matches, when some are found, they turn her down because of her coldness and shyness.

It is a sweet book, easy to read, but as I said, long.  I read it interspersed with other books, because the minutiae of daily pre-war Japanese life holds only so much fascination.

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