22 September 2010

The Makioka Sisters (Tanizaki Junichirō)

I recently finished The Makioka Sisters by the Japanese novelist Tanizaki Junichirō. It was translated into English by Edward G. Seidensticker. This was the second book of Tanizaki that I've read. I was on and off it in the last three months, following the schedule of Tanabata who hosted a group readalong at In Spring it is the Dawn.

After Some Prefer Nettles [review], I was eager to follow up my reading of Tanizaki. The Makioka Sisters was considered his masterpiece for its scope of characters and broad cultural canvas. I'm not going to give a full review of the book. All the images are still floating in my head. After putting down the book, I find myself spent on good writing, as if I was drinking cup after cup of saké. I was drunk with Japanese culture and with the intensity of feelings embodied by the characters. Let me just say that characterization is Tanizaki's greatest strength. He thrived on the quirks of his characters and every plot twist and development he pulled was tied closely to the actions of his characters. The beauty of the novel derived in part with the important period it covers--Japan right before the second world war. As with Some Prefer Nettles, we witness here a direct confrontation between the old and the new, the conventional beliefs and the modern temperaments. We get a front seat to the shifting mores of Japan at the eve of the war, of the transformations the characters undergo as they face significant events that define the course of their lives as members of an extended family. The portrait of Japanese aristocracy enacted by Tanizaki was a portrait in transition. It was a momentary glimpse of fickle destinies unfolding over time. It was an experience.

For the many cultural references in the book, I refer you to the three-part post at In Spring it is the Dawn [Book One; Book Two; Book Three]. In it you'll find some useful contexts contained in the book.


  1. I read this book about 6 months ago-I agree it is a very good book-it has at times an Austin like quality, at least in its focus on the marriages of 3 sisters-I enjoyed your post a lot

  2. Thanks, mel. It reminds me myself of Chekhov's brilliant play, The Three Sisters.