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Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Cat, A Man and Two Women

A Cat, A Man and Two Women
by
Junichiro Tanizaki

Regarded highly among modern Japanese writers of 20th century, Tanizaki was a recent find for me. I have only read two of his books so far and they are, of course, translated in English.

This book is a collection of 3 pieces - a novella (title of the book), and two other little pieces - The Little Kingdom and Professor Rado.

I haven't read enough Tanizaki to know how this book differs from his usual style and themes, but, it was an interesting and quite entertaining read nonetheless, especially the title story. The Little Kingdom was sort of a simple power struggle between teacher and pupil, and Professor Rado was about this seemingly reputable professor with some dark secrets.

The title story/novella is about a typical sort-of jelly-spined man, Shozo, caught between a scorned ex-wife and a wily new one, both quite adept at manipulating him in their own ways, not to mention the Mother, who probably raised him to be this inadvertent weakling.

The story is really simple but the way it unfolds and grips the reader is hard to describe. What comes to mind for me is this: imagine a small black ink bottle filled with black ink; now, imagine you have slowly put this open ink bottle in a glass jar of crystal clear plain water; the way the ink diffuses and spreads and engulfs the clear water is how I felt when the story unfolded and revealed the depths of each of the characters and gripped me, despite maintaining a light-hearted tone.

The clever study of human nature and behavior combined with the wry sense of humor in the narration was wonderful to read. It is one thing to explicitly state that the characters have such and such characteristics, and it is another to let the reader come to that conclusion as the story unfolds. This relies on the build up and the narration which is done very well in this novella. Not only about the human characters, but, the Cat plays a good role in this story and cat lovers (like myself) can easily appreciate Shozo's relationship with his cat.

Of course, there is no closure to the stories. Ending is abrupt, without much explanation.

I am looking forward to reading some of Tanizaki's other well-known works which apparently can be perverse and macabre...

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