Summary: Great Author - Great Book
Comment: Other reviews will give you the plot. I just want to warn readers new to this author that his novels move slowly and invariably concern the struggle between "old" Japanese traditions and the explosion of "Westernism" thrust upon Japan after WW II. Be aware that classic Japanese (and Chinese) novels are flavored with many references to nature, art, dance and poetry plus social mores that sound strange to a western ear. For example, in The Key, a husband has been married to his wife for many years and yet never seen her totally naked. He adores her feet, but she constantly covers them up!
To really appreciate his writing you should read, as a minimum, The Key, The Makioka Sisters and Some Prefer Nettles. All are outstanding.
Summary: Relevent even today
Comment: Kaname and Misako are a couple who have grown apart emotionally and have decided to divorce. However, Kaname and Misako are both very passive, each deferring to the other on what to do at any given point, derailing any real action from happening. As their inaction goes on and on, things change and Kaname finds himself drawn more and more into a traditional way of thinking, and Misako gets more and more modern in her way of thinking as she is rather forced by the situation to get more involved with her lover. Finally a decision is forced when Misako's father is told what is going on and he insists on talking to both of them.
This book was rather tedious to read and I had to force myself to finish it. There was a lot of internal and external dialogue as to what to do, divorce, not to divorce, and so on. It goes on and on, back and forth, and I found my mind wondering. Then there was the constant discussion about the differences between Tokyo vs. Osaka vs. Kyoto "ites" stereotypical attributes and sense of aesthetics in the arts, especially Puppet Theater, as well as much internal dialogue by Kaname about modern vs. traditional ideas as he finds himself drawn more and more to the traditional as he ages.
I lived in Japan for many years and as of the mid 90's much of the ideas and way of thinking represented in this book still lives on, except for divorce, which no longer carries the stigma it did in those days. Differences between prefectures and people of those places are important to and brought up often by the Japanese themselves and so I found this book extremely interesting on that level alone as this book could have easily been written recently. It's a very in depth representation of Japanese culture and worth reading for that alone.
Summary: Frozen in time
Comment: I was accustomed to thinking all Japanese literature was the same after I read Mishima and Murakami but it seems I was mistaken. As the summary puts it, the story revolves around an impending divorce, a very normal situation, nothing close to Murakami and Mishima's fantasy worlds. Indeed it is a very slow book, something most people mistake to be a terrible thing in a book. The slowness I believe is intentional. Tanizaki's work is similar to modernist works that I have read in its emphasis on daily life and personal thoughts without any reference, or any rush to some actual plot. Without a plot to advance, Tanizaki chooses a different route. There is no beginning nor ending. It's simply a "photograph" of a particular episode. I haven't had much exposure to plotless fiction so I can't adhere to any standard.
The themes in the book are fairly obvious. The difficulty resides mainly in the Westerner, who is essentially looking through a small window into Japanese culture. It's akin to staring into an empty dark house, vaguely recognizing the silhouettes of furniture. What is the the Tokyo "natural reserve"? The Osaka "openness"? Why does it matter that Osaka puppets are superior to Awaji puppets? It's all very interesting, but it bears no personal significance to an outsider. Tanizaki has preserved cultures and behaviors that probably no longer exist in Japan. It's partially depressing because one can longer experience Tanizaki's world, but on the other hand, it's a relief because the oppressive aspects of the culture have long disappeared.
Summary: Important text...
Comment: Elusive, difficult, and elegant are three adjectives which I would use to describe this 1928 Tanizaki text. Anybody interested in the dialogue between Asia and the West should definitely give this one a read, despite the occasional heavy-handed Freudian references.
Summary: A melancholic separation
Comment: This is a novel about the old and the young generation in the 1920s in Japan.
A couple of the new one wants to separate because their sexual passion has disappeared. The father of the woman tries to convince the couple to continue to stay together.
"The reason for their decision to separate was that they did not want to grow old, that they wanted to be free to live their youth again." (p.31)
The novel is autobiographic and symbolic, which is well explained by the well-known and outstanding translator E. Seidensticker.
But the story should more appeal to the Japanese than to foreign readers, because it refers regularly to authentic Japanese themes as the old and new Japanese puppet theatre or the motif of the woman as a doll.
It is shrouded in a sad and melancholic atmosphere.
Only for the Tanizaki aficionados.