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.
The voice is insistent, attractive, persuasive – the voice of a cultured Osaka lady, unfortunately, widowed young. Sonoko Kakiuchi’s story, however, is unsettlingly at odds with her image. It is a tale of infatuation and deceit, of deliberate evil. Its theme is humiliation, its victim Sonoko’s mild-mannered husband. And at its center – seducing, manipulating, enslaving – is one of the most extraordinary characters ever created by the great Japanese novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, the beautiful and totally corrupt art student Mitsuko.
Partly a black comedy – the plot sometimes resembles bedroom farce – partly an exploration of sexual obsession and pain, Quicksand is the last major Tanizaki novel to be translated, largely because of the extreme difficulty in capturing the narrator’s precise tone in English. In this Howard Hibbett has succeeded brilliantly. As a masterwork on the level of Some Prefer Nettles and Diary of a Mad Old Man, and as a triumph of the translator’s art, Quicksand is both important and totally engrossing.
It’s finally the weekend. And yes, we’re midway through July already. It still feels like the month started a couple of days ago. Anyway, I hope you ended the work week on a high note and that you are diving into the weekend without too many anxieties (although we are never rid of them). It’s time to rest and relax and focus on other non-work-related things! Me time! Anyway, I hope that you are all healthy and that you are all happy. More importantly, I hope that the pandemic will end soon so that we can resume our regular lives. Unfortunately, there is a new surge here in the Philippines, which is not surprising I guess because everything has been returning to normal. Malls are brimming. Mass transportation is full. Nearly everyone is reporting to the office. I just hope that it won’t undo the progress made in the past couple of months. I hope that we overcome this new spate of cases.
Before I can dive into the weekends, let me close this week with a fresh First Impression Friday update. For my birth month, I have decided to return to one of my comfort zones in the vast world of literature. After two amazing months of soaking in the works of European literature, I am back in familiar territory: Japanese literature. It is an entire ecosystem where different genres and subgenres thrive. It is a smorgasbord that caters to every palate. Earlier today, I finished All the Lovers in the Night, Mieko Kawakami’s latest translated work. It is my third novel written by Kawakami. It explored a familiar theme although its focus was on the isolation of women in modern society and their plight once they reach a certain age. This evening, I started reading Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s Quicksand, the book featured in this First Impression Friday update.
Like All the Lovers in the Night and the book before it, Kenzaburō Ōe’s A Quiet Life, this is my third novel by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki who is one of the most renowned Japanese writers of the 20th century. Interestingly – and it is just now that I noticed it – Tanizaki was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature. And yes, a prestigious literary prize in Japan was named after him. Anyway, the last Tanizaki novel I read was The Makioka Sisters, a powerful literary piece that explored Japanese mores and conventions in a particular time period. I expect, or at least I hope that Quicksand will live up to my expectations.
Like in The Makioka Sisters, the main characters are two women: Sonoko Kakiuchi and Tokumitsu Mitsuko. Sonoko is a young woman from Osaka who was living a comfortable married life. At least, that was what it seemed because as the story moved forward, trouble was brewing. We also experience the story through the first-person perspective of Sonoko. Anyway, Sonoko met Mitsuko when she attended art classes at the Women’s Arts Academy. Mitsuko was a beautiful young woman who was arranged to be married to “a young man who was heir to the fortune of the M Family, one of the richest and most famous families in Osaka.” Mitsuko, however, was not in favor of the pairing but she had no other recourse as it was what her family dictated.
The book was originally printed as a serial for the magazine Kaizō from 1928 to 1930 with the title 卍 (Manji), the four-pronged Buddhist swastika. It was also one of Tanizaki’s last major novels to be translated into English. What I find interesting about the story are the hints of a homosexual or perhaps a bisexual relationship. Sonoko and Mitsuko gradually became close, primarily because Sonoko was in awe of Mitsuko’s beauty that her face was the only one she sees. Moreover, a rumor about their lesbian relationship that they both encouraged helped Mitsuko in the cancellation of her arranged marriage, much to Mitsuko’s relief, and, unbeknownst to Mitsuko, to Sonoko’s.
Since I just started reading the book, I haven’t gotten far yet. However, questions are already forming in my mind. Does Mitsuko feel the same towards Sonoko? So far, I haven’t been provided glimpses into Mitsuko’s mind, unlike Sonoko. How would Sonoko reckon with her feelings? Moreover, how would Sonoko overcome the societal norms that prevailed during the period? Japanese culture has been known to be conservative although it has made strides towards a more liberal mindset. If the two women indeed get romantically involved, how would it affect the people around them? Somehow, I feel that the story would shift the blame on the women. The synopsis is already painting the men as victims, which I feel is unfair. Well, this is one part of the narrative I am interested to see unfold. I am also interested in how Tanizaki built Mitsuko.
The book seems like a quick read. I hope I get to finish it over the weekend. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. For now, happy weekend! And as always, happy reading and take care!