The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
I wasn’t sure how to begin writing this “book review.” This is hardly a book review. In many ways, The Makioka Sisters is a tale of how humans grieve the passing of cherry blossoms. How this grief manifests in the way the characters in this story see and understand each other. And as time passes and seasons sway and coalesce, humans, too, inhabit different moods and expressions of their own. This book is deeply grounded in nature. The ordinariness of poems, the affectations of domestic life, the subtleties of aging and the loss of youth. This makes beautiful writing vividly final. Tanizaki focuses on drawing parallels between many, divergent worlds. Natural disasters display the angst of growing up; the possession of an age and its prescribed role in society. Then there is the damage caused to traditional values that dictate who is loved and not. This is felt more grotesquely as Tanizaki sketches the influence of an upcoming war and its vicarious tides on the lives of the Makioka sisters. There is a consistent theme and structure to Tanizaki’s writing. Under the modern gaze of Westernization, people are forced to let go of rituals and customs that previously held families together; where even love had failed to bloom. Even though his way of narrating the lives of these sisters is elegant and vivid. There is no plot or revealing ending to this book. It’s a series of meanderings; both of transcendence and limitations. In this story, there’s always a sense of apprehensive uneasiness that’s lurking in the corner. It’s not a consuming feeling but it is quite intense. And it’s something that I felt right from start to finish. Since this is a story about the portrait of a family, the narration is quite dense and descriptive. Which is what makes The Makioka Sisters a compelling read. The story is about the impermanence of life, the melancholy of youth, and above all, the enslavement of prestige and class and pride over individual desire and volition. It is a sincere and brutal book, which cannot but be a satisfying read for every Japanese literature admirer.