First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
In Osaka in the years immediately before World War II, four aristocratic women try to preserve a way of life that is vanishing. As told by Junichiro Tanizaki, the story of the Makioka sisters forms what is arguably the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century, a poignant yet unsparing portrait of a family – and an entire society – sliding into the abyss of modernity.
Tsukuro, the eldest sister, clings obstinately to the prestige of her family name even as her husband prepares to move their household to Tokyo, where that name means nothing. Sachiko compromises valiantly to secure the future of her younger sisters. The unmarried Yukiko is a hostage to her family’s exacting standards, while the spirited Taeko rebels by flinging herself into scandalous romantic alliances. Filled with vignettes of upper-class Japanese life and capturing both the decorum and the heartache of its protagonists, The Makioka Sisters is a classic of international literature.
It’s the second day and the first Friday of July! I hope you all had a great start to the seventh month of the year. It still feels kind of surreal that we are already midway through the year. I wish that in the rush of time, we get closer to the solution of our current predicament. Many countries have started their vaccination drives and I hope that before the year ends. For now, I am currently swept up in the tediousness of the month end closing. Such is the life of an accountant. Nevertheless, I am praying for everyone’s well-being in this most challenging and uncertain of times. We can only hope for the best and that this pandemic will end soon.
Part of my end-of-week ritual is a First Impression update. In the midst of an immersion into Japanese Literature (one of my favorite sections of the literary world), I am currently delving into one of the representative works of this part of the world. For the longest time, I have been longing to read Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters. I first came across the book about five to six years ago, while combing through several must-read lists. The Makioka Sisters is one of the titles that keep popping out in these lists. However, it didn’t take that convincing to add the book to my infinitely growing list.
It was one of those books which you immediately knew you are going to read. Even without having any iota on what the book was about, its aura just rivets you in. That was my experience with The Makioka Sisters. It did take me some time to avail a copy of the book. I have been hoping to encounter a hardbound copy of the book – I still do – but my wish was never granted. Since I can no prolong my anticipation of the book, I bought the first available copy of the book last year. To not miss out on the book, I added it to my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. After years of waiting and crossing fingers, I am finally dipping into one of my most looked forward to reads.
Set in pre-World War II Japan, The Makioka Sisters revolve around four sisters – Tsuruko, Sachiko, Yukiko, and Taeko. The Makioka family was once a formidable presence in the Osaka high society. The patriarch owned a successful business that seemingly ensured the future of his daughters. However, the patriarch passed away but not after arranging suitable marriages to his two oldest daughters. Tatsuo, being the husband of the first daughter, took on the role of the primary authority. Most Asian societies, as we all know by now, were once predominantly highly patriarchal. Several instances in the story also highlighted this indisputable fact.
Rather than backtracking on the history of the sisters, Tanizaki commenced the story when one half of the sisters are already married. Vignettes of the past, however, were interspersed all throughout the narrative. I just finished the first part which dealt largely on finding a suitable husband for Yukiko. What stands out in the narrative, apart from the fact that the men were visibly in authority, were the details of Japanese society. Marriage arrangements were prevalent (remember this is pre-World War II Japan) and the opinion of women in their partners were rarely heeded. However, the readers witness a subtle evolution from the highly traditional to a more liberated household. These shifts in ideals is one of the facets of most 1900s Japanese literary works and it was not surprising that it was one of primary themes of the novel.
I am now off to part two of the novel. I expect more changes taking place amongst the sisters. It remains to be seen whether Yukiko will get married or not; she was the most timid of the four sisters. However, perhaps because of the absence of a major patriarchal influence, Yukiko was more firm in her choices and she lets her opinions be known, at least in respect to finding a suitable husband. Taeko, the youngest, was the antithesis of Yukiko. She was more spunky. Where the older sisters wear kimono during important events, Taeko wears Western dresses. Unfortunately, as traditions have it, Taeko cannot get married until her elder sister gets married. Apart from these, I am interested to hear Tsuruko’s voice; it was currently drowned by her husband’s and her sister’s voices. I want to learn the pressures on the first born female; this was something that has not yet been highlighted. But perhaps there are no pressures on her shoulders as her husband took full control over all family decisions.
So far, I am liking the reading experience. There is still quite a lot to look forward to in the story. Above all, I want to see how the sisters adjust to a rapidly changing society and culture. There was quite a lot of emphasis on the latter in the novels’ first part. In my excitement, I just might finish the book over the weekend. Or not. How about you fellow reader, what book are you going to read this weekend? I hope it is a book that you’ve been looking forward to and I hope you enjoy it. Keep safe, and happy weekend!