Who: Junichiro Tanizaki, who is considered Japan’s most popular novelist and one of the major writers of modern Japanese literature
When: Comprised of three different volumes, the novel was published from 1943 to 1948. The story has been adapted into a film three times, with the most notable one released in 1983
Where: The story takes place in Osaka from 1936 to 1941, ending just before the attack on Pearl Harbor
What: “The Makioka Sisters” follows the lives of 4 sisters from the affluent Makioka family. The plot centers around the family’s struggles with getting the third oldest sister, Yukiko, married while also navigating the socio-economic and political landscape of a quickly modernizing Japan
Why: You don’t have to be familiar with Japanese culture to read this book (but certainly an interest in it will help). While the social mores are anachronistic and the way characters react to unforeseen events leave them seeming unrelatable to the Western reader, the author’s keen insight into human nature helps this story stand the test of time. Each sister is unique in her own right and Tanizaki’s interest in writing about human sexuality rounds out the characters. The Makioka family is also in the midst of their decline, both socially and financially. Their difficulties coming to terms with their reality make for a thinly veiled critique of a stuffy social hierarchy overly concerned with maintaining looks. At these critical junctures of the story’s plot, Tanizaki’s words serve as an insight into what the Japanese people of the time thought but could not say.
You can purchase the novel here.