Book Review: Seven Japanese Tales by Tanizaki Jun’ichirô

seven japanese talesThe selection of these seven short stories shows the wide range of the writing skills of the very famous writer Tanizaki Jun‘ichirô 谷崎 潤一郎 , who is known for his narrations about love and obsession, often destructive and bizarre. His works are sometimes shocking, but not written for that purpose. Tanizaki writes psychologically well observed tales and is highly praised  for that reason, therefore his stories belong to the most famous works of Japanese literature.

It is for sure not for everybody’s taste as Tanizaki crosses some borders in his tales and writes about obsession, madness and psychotic feelings. Readers who know Tanizaki already and admire his style, will find interesting stories and will be surprised again.

The Bridge of Dreams takes up a bizarre relationship between a young man and his stepmother. It is written in a style of a memoir and was published in 1959.

Tanizaki‘s most famous story The Tatooer of 1910 is also in it. This is his first story he published by himself. He became famous shortly afterwards as a shooting star on the literary scene in Japan.

Terror (1913) is about a man‘s unability to take a ride with the train. He suffers from the so-called Eisenbahnkrankheit (railroad phobia). The story is about his journey to an important meeting with his prospective employer.

In The Thief (1921) the reader gets to know about the inner feelings of a man, who steals things, but regards himself holding a pure conscience.

Aguri (1922) belongs to the less interesting stories in this collection about a hallucination of a woman.

Two of the included stories have a historical background, which makes them worth reading, although they are quite exotic. A Portrait of Shunkin takes place in the Meiji era, A Blind Man‘s Tale in the times of the late 16th century.

The most horrible story is A Portrait of Shunkin (1933). The narration is about a female musician called Shunkin, who in spite of her blindness takes full control of one of her pupils. He adores her so much, that he dedicates his life to her by blinding himself. I regard Shunkin as one of the most disgusting female characters of Tanizaki‘s fiction I know so far.

Another story in this collection takes up the topic of blindness in A Blind Man‘s Tale of 1931. Historical fights of Oda Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, which lead to the foundation of a unified Japan, are the background for this story. A servant named Yaichi and his love for a lady and her daughters are the main topic.

The seven stories show a range of Tanizaki’s writings. They differ in style and of course in quality, as they were also chosen from his very early works, but are worth the reading as they show his development as an author. I would not start with this collection reading Tanizaki, but recommend it to the advanced reader or fans of Tanizaki.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Seven Japanese Tales by Tanizaki Jun’ichirô

  1. Pingback: Readings in June | Japan Kaleidoskop

  2. Pingback: Readings in 2015 | Japan Kaleidoskop

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