The Makioka Sisters (Amazon.com)
The Makioka Sisters (Amazon.co.uk)
The Makioka Sisters (Powell’s Books – new or secondhand)
Originally published in 1943-48 (in instalments), this great novel is by the celebrated Japanese writer Tanizaki (1886-1965). It is set in pre-war Osaka/Ashiya and concerns a formerly upper class family that has fallen into decline. The writing style in this book has been labelled *realism* but there is more than that in operation here.
There’s something magical about the presence of the Makiokas’ old-world values in a time (the 1930s) which was marked by flood and war. The Makiokas’ preoccupations are very much removed from those of the heavily militarised society of the time. The characters are removed in other ways: firstly the Osaka/Ashiya region where they live is contrasted with the bustle of Tokyo; and then of course, the upper class attitudes of the family no longer match the circumstances under which they now live.
The main characters are the three younger Makioka sisters. Sachiko is married to the genial, literary Teinosuke and he allows her unmarried sisters Yukiko and Taeko to live with them. According to tradition, Yukiko must be married next, even though Taeko has already found a man (Okubata, with whom she tried to elope). Yukiko is a shy, old-style Japanese beauty who has turned down many suitors in the past but is now thirty and there is a great desperation to find her a husband. Taeko is a thoroughly modern girl of twenty-five who is too young to remember her family’s greatness and is therefore not too concerned with propriety.
I should mention that all the characters, major or minor, are exceptionally well drawn.
There is a subtle sadness throughout the novel, a tension which creates a constant expectation that the family is about to decline further. Only at the end of the book did I realize that the sadness is coming not from any decline in the family’s *name* but from the changing of the relationships between these Makioka sisters.
This book is flawless.