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Author: Fumiko Enchi

Two Japanese classics

Two Japanese classics

Two Japanese classicsThe Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
Published by Kodansha on 1980 (first published 1957)
Genres: Japanese literature, Classic
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9780870114243

The beautiful, immature girl whom she took home to her husband was a maid only in name. Tomo's real mission had been to find him a mistress. Nor did her secret humiliation end there. The web that his insatiable lust spun about him soon trapped another young woman, and another ... and the relationships between the women thus caught were to form, over the years, a subtle, shifting pattern in which they all played a part.

So recently I read these two Japanese classics one after another, which frankly was a great decision! Both Fumiko Enchi (1905-1986) and Kanoko Okamoto (1889-1939) – the former more famous than the latter – were feminists and modern women in their time. Reading these two authors back to back was an interesting experience.

First, there was The Waiting Years. Last year I read Masks by Fumiko Enchi and wrote about her for January in Japan. My ultrashort review of Masks can be found here. Unfortunately that didn’t leave a very deep impression on me, so I didn’t expect to read anything else by Enchi. But The Waiting Years was the book club pick for the the Japanese Literature group on Goodreads so I decided to join in, and I’m so glad I did!

The Waiting Years was a very interesting and rather beautiful read. It describes life in the upper-class Shirakawa family in the late Meiji era. More specifically, it describes the lives and feelings of the women in the Shirakawa household. The women are central in this book. And while the Shirakawa household and everything about it is very traditional, and the women are forced into a position of submission, I think the way Enchi writes about them is surprisingly refreshing. The women have to endure a lot but the tone is never overly negative. The women are well rounded characters, developing throughout the novel, and they all deal with their situation in their own way.

Every aspect of this book focuses on the traditional, but Enchi gives it a (in my opinion) modern and feminist twist by not being afraid to point out unfairness through the voice of the characters. On the whole, the book was very nuanced. I don’t think it could have been written by anyone but a woman (at least, at the time it was written).

I also recommend checking out our book club discussion about the book here!

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Two Japanese classicsA Riot of Goldfish by Kanoko Okamoto
Published by Hesperus Press on 2010
Genres: Japanese literature, Classic
Pages: 113
ISBN: 9781843918523

In early 20th-century Japan, the son of lower-class goldfish sellers falls in love with the beautiful daughter of his rich patron. After he is sent away to study the science of goldfish breeding, with strict orders to return and make his patron's fortune, he vows to devote his life to producing one ideal, perfect goldfish specimen to reflect his loved-one's beauty. This poignant and deft tale is presented along with the story of a pauper from Kyoto who teaches himself to be an accomplished chef.

Okamoto’s work is entirely different from Enchi’s. A Riot of Goldfish contains two novella’s where men are the main characters. Both A Riot of Goldfish and it’s companion The Food Demon are ‘small’ stories, they don’t have a real plot and they focus on just one specific theme.

In the first story, the adopted son of a goldfish breeder is completely enamoured by his classmate, the daughter of his rich patron. But she is out of his league, so instead he aims to create the perfect new breed of goldfish. And that despite the fact that he is really not all that interested in goldfish breeding.

In the second story we learn about Besshiro, his relationship with cooking food, and how he got to this point in his life.

Personally, I am a huge fan of these types of stories (is there a name for them?), that I only ever seem to encounter in Japanese literature. In this case, the first story was a bit too feverish for me, but I really enjoyed the second one. All in all, this thin book is a quick read and there’s no reason not to give it a try 😉

Women's Classic Literature Event

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – two down…

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – two down…

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – two down…Masks by Fumiko Enchi
Published by Vintage on September 12th 1983 (first published 1958)
Genres: Japanese literature, Classic
Pages: 141
ISBN: 9780394722184

A curiously elegant and scandalous tale of sexual deception and revenge. Ibuki loves widow Yasuko who is young, charming and sparkling with intelligence as well as beauty. His friend, Mikame, desires her too but that is not the difficulty. What troubles Ibuki is the curious bond that has grown between Yasuko and her mother-in-law, Mieko, a handsome, cultivated yet jealous woman in her fifties, who is manipulating the relationship between Yasuko and the two men who love her.

I did not forget about this challenge this year! The previous years were a bit of a disaster, but this time I am determined to make it. Looking at my list I get a bit nervous though.

Anyway, I can happily announce I am two books down (and have ten more to go)! I don’t think I can bring myself to write full reviews, but here are mini reviews for the two books I finished.

Masks was the first book off my TBR pile challenge that I finished. It was actually one of the alternates, and I ended up reading it for January in Japan. I was looking forward to reading something by Enchi, she was one of the classic authors I hadn’t read anything by yet.

Frankly… I read Masks back in January, and to my shame I don’t even remember how it ended. I can’t say it left a very deep impression on me. The characters didn’t do much for me, as did the storyline. What I did enjoy a lot were the nôh aspects, although I know close to nothing about nôh. And even better, the references to The Tale of Genji – that I thankfully do know a bit more about (although those who have been with me longer know I errr strongly dislike that story haha).

So while this book may not have ended up among my favourites, I am glad to have had the experience of reading it.

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TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – two down…The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Published by Faber & Faber on 2005 (first published 1963)
Genres: Classic
Pages: 234
ISBN: 9780571226160

Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, boyfriend, looks, career - and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality.

While reading this I went through a few stages. The first few pages, I couldn’t help but feel it was one of “those books”. I am sure you know what kind of books I am talking about – the youngster growing up, stepping out into the world, a few doubts here and there, with a touch of misplaced glamour. Except this time not with a young man but a young woman as a main character, so that was refreshing at least.

I completely changed my opinion a little bit onwards, as we got to know more about Esther and her life in New York. I was really beginning to enjoy the book. And then – although I saw it coming it still felt quite sudden – mental illness prevailed. It was almost shocking how relevant the book is even in this day and age (minus certain old-fashioned treatments).

I am glad I read this book. It really impressed me. Of course it is (sadly) no surprise Plath was able to write about it so well…

2015 TBR Pile Challenge