Published by Charles E. Tuttle on 1990 (first published 1935)
Genres: Japanese literature
I opened 2013 with Confessions of Love, as part of my personal challenge of reading more Japanese literature, as well as January in Japan.
Chiyo Uno is not often mentioned when it comes to Japanese literature. She doesn’t seem to fall among the popular Japanese authors such as Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, Kawabata, Tanizaki and the likes. According to the translator of Confessions of Love, at the time of his writing the introduction (late 80’s), there was a Chiyo Uno ‘boom’ going on in Japan. As far as I was able to find out, the same goes for the west: most western works about Uno seem to have appeared around the same time, and not much after that. I certainly hadn’t heard of Uno until I found this copy of Confessions of Love, which attracted my attention because of the author’s name, the photo on the back cover and… well, the cover is bright pink and a bit tacky and I simply couldn’t resist.
The book is written from the perspective of an artist, Jōji Yuasa. He describes his escapades with women and falling in love. He is a weak man and in no way a hero. The story starts out innocent enough, when Yuasa receives a letter from a girl. At the time he is still married, but his marriage is loveless and he decides to pursue the girl. Without spoiling the rest of the story (although halfway I realised it was already spoiled in the introduction): by the end I didn’t have much sympathy for Yuasa left.
The book is a nice quick read. The translation to English is done by Phyllis Birnbaum. I haven’t tried reading the book in Japanese, but the translation at least reads easy and pleasantly. The language is straightforward and personally I like that. Also I found it fascinating that the story was told from the perspective of a man. Moreover, Uno integrates both the traditional and the modern aspects of her time in the novel. Most of the women in Confessions of Love are ‘modern girls’. ‘Modern girls’ (モダン・ガール) or moga are a phenomenon that started in the 1920’s, Japan’s late Taishō period and early Shōwa period. Moga followed a westernised fashion and lifestyle. They were usually independent, financially and from their family. Despite all of this, Uno shows in Confessions of Love how family and tradition continues to influence marriage.
Before I even started the book, I was instantly intrigued by Uno because of the introduction by Birnbaum. Uno was born in 1897 and died at age 98 in 1996. Her life was far from traditional. As she says herself, she did whatever she pleased. In her life time she had several husbands and lovers (Yuasa in Confessions of Love is based off the story of one of her husbands), as well as several occupations such as kimono designer. She was mostly popular for her looks – she was a ‘modern girl’ herself – and her escapades with men, although she herself says she gave priority to writing.
I wanted to know more about Uno and was happy to find The Sound of the Wind: Life and Works of Uno Chiyo by Rebecca L. Copeland at my library. It contains a biography of Uno (which seems to be taken largely from Uno’s self-written works about herself) and three stories (The Puppet Maker, The Sound of the Wind, and This Powder Box, which I haven’t read yet). I can recommend this book if you are looking for more insight on Uno and the time she lived and wrote in.
With the Goodreads Japanese literature group we read The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, one of Uno’s contemporaries. Both books were written and take place within ten years of eachother, before WWII. While the Confessions of Love mostly shows the lives and love-lives of ‘modern girls’ and the way society views them, The Makioka Sisters portrays the traditional way of finding a husband (or more accurately I suppose: a husband being found for you). Reading both these books is incredibly insightful in this part of Japanese culture at the time.
I am happy I found a Japanese author I was not yet familiar with and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of her works (first those three stories in Sound of the Wind, I suspect).