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The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot: Two Novels (Vintage International) [Paperback]

Jun'ichiro Tanizaki
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Mar 2003 Vintage International
From a Japanese master of romantic and sexual obsession come two novels that treat traditional themes with sly wit and startling psychological sophistication. In The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, Junichir Tanizaki reimagines the exploits of a legendary samurai as a sadomasochistic dance between the hero and the wife of his enemy. Arrowroot, though set in the twentieth century, views an adult orphan’s search for his mother’s past through the translucent shoji screen of ancient literature and myth.

Both works are replete with shocking juxtapositions. Severed heads become objects of erotic fixation. Foxes take on human shape. An aristocratic lady loves and pities the man she is conspiring to destroy. This supple translation reveals the full scope of Tanizaki’s gift: his confident storytelling, luminous detail, and astonishingly vital female characters.

Product details

  • Paperback: 199 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375719318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375719318
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.3 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,910,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.0 out of 5 stars Remember, these are novels 6 Oct 2007
This books contains two novellas by Junichiro Tanizaki and tranlated by Anthony Chambers. Tanizaki wrote these in 1930 and they are suppose to be his favorite.
The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi is filled with scandel. The subject is of a great lord whose sexual fixations includes a sick obsession in severed heads, espcially those without noses. This is more of a horror story of old.

Arrowroot is meditative, poetic, it describes the journey of two friends traveling together. One is looking for information about a lost imperial court from the 15th centuary, the other is trying to understand his dead mother.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perverse Samurai Lord and a nostalgic trip to a mountain village 11 Sep 2005
By Zack Davisson - Published on
Junichiro Tanizaki is often a complicated, perverse author. He delves into the mysterious realm of sexual fetishism and body horror, presenting grotesqueries in a uniquely straight-forward writing style that is itself neither fetishistic nor perverse, lending an air of normalcy to the bizarre figures that populate his tales. At the same time, he can write sensitive, beautiful stories without a hint of sexual exploration.

Taking a similar theme in two very different directions, "The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi/Arrowroot" showcases these two sides of Tanizaki's talent. Both deal with "books within a book," using this device as a launching point for the narrative. One is a dark tale of body horror and sexual perversion, and the other is a simple piece of nostalgia. The two stories were said to be the author's favorites.

"The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi" revolves around a fictional Samurai lord, and two fictional "re-discovered texts" that detail the secret sexual life of the Lord of Musashi. From the two books, The Dream of a Night and Memiors of Doamai, the narrator pieces together the cruel pleasures of a man obsessed with nose-less severed heads. In his young boyhood, he watched the women washing the severed heads of defeated Samurai and experienced his first sexual desire while watching their beautiful fingers manipulating the grotesque objects. Unquenched bye the passing years, his fetish leads him to an affair with the passionately cruel Lady Kikyo, who's father's nose he severed as a boy. Finally, his own marriage is encountered, and the abuse of his servant Doamai.

The writing style, using an almost lectural tone of one giving a class on the life of the Lord of Musashi, softens the impact of the horror of using severed heads as sexual aids. It is a very interesting story, in the true Tanizaki style.

"Arrowroot" is much shorter, and is set in the hidden mountains of Yoshino, in Nara prefecture. Two friends take a trip to the mountains, under the premise of going to see a fabled drum in the possession of a small village family. The author thinks of the trip as research into a possible historical novel detailing the Southern Court, while his friend has a secret motive. The story is very beautifully written, sensitive and nostalgic. It is a complete reversal from "The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi" and yet is somehow a perfect companion.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two of Tanizaki's best! 25 April 2009
By M. Karr - Published on
This book pairs together two stories that while at first may seem quite different are very similar in style. That style is Junichero Tanizaki's unique way of letting a psychological undercurrent build-up slowly, sometimes almost imperceptibly until you realize that something extremely weird was sitting out amongst the banal truths without notice all along.

Other reviewers have said that the Secret History of Lord Musashi was one of Tanizaki's bloodiest novels. Perhaps that may be true in the sense of Tanizaki's usual subtlety. Readers of modern day horror stories might be bored by the lack of gory details, the lack of splashes of buckets of blood; but people who have learned to relish the wistful macabre of Edgar Allen Poe should definitely enjoy it. The style is unique among what little I've read by Tanizaki as a more historically flavoured narrative at times, yet it still contains the profound sense of psychological depth of all his works.

The second story Arrowroot (which according to the liner notes was not originally published with the first one), is said to have been one of Junichero's personal favourites. Having met his style before makes it easy to see why. Without giving away too much of the plot ... what seems as a nice uneventful stroll through the countryside somehow just isn't. He ever so subtly weaves in bits and pieces of the decidedly Japanese connotation of foxes and drums throughout the narrative until the end of the tale reveals a detail that could seem mundane ... ONLY IT ISN'T!!!

Both of these stories are highly recommended to all readers of Junichero Tanizaki, as well as anyone wanting to explore the subtle style of Japanese literature. This book, along with his "Seven Japanese Tales", now ranks among my favourites.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tanizaki in brief 19 Feb 2013
By Michele A. Barale - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
He's complex and demanding, but worth the trouble. Reading Tanizaki is like reading Henry James: so much is conveyed in small details.
5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative 23 Sep 2013
By feather pen - Published on
A convincing telling of 16th C life in Japan, surprising for the interior views of people's ideas and feelings as well as of rooms and how they lived. Makes you feel you were there. Sometimes I wished just to have the 'original' memoir albeit meandering and lengthy, but Tanizaki's interpretations of people and events, his asides and explanations make his story compelling and believable. It does promise more than it delivers, hinting throughout at the sexual perversions of Musashi, but never does he seem to actually engage or fulfill his sexuality. Maybe it is a tale of sublimity? Maybe the intensity of the cruelty takes the place of actual sex, because it does not seem Mushashi gets much over the years. The occurrences happen off-stage, out of the realm of the narrative, and seem to be exclusively with Lady Kikyo during planning stages. It is suggested that his perversion consists in getting excited about a version of castrated enemies - the severed head with nose removed. Perhaps he identifies with them having been brought up amongst enemies to whom he was expected to be grateful. Fulfillment is not witnessed, only the beginning, making this seem more an extrapolation of the feelings of a pre-teen Mushshi, who was stunted emotionally; maybe the point of the story and why people enjoy it so much is that we are expected to supply the culmination by our imagination, and Tanizaki is hoping we will not be observers or bystanders, having written a deep story. I loved the history and being brought inside their lives, but I wasn't fully engaged, as I kept looking for the promised details. I can grasp the twist of being raised in a contrary manner, but not so much as that. An intense story.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An obsession with noseless heads. 17 Jun 1997
By A Customer - Published on
The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi is a masterpiece of dysfunction. A lord who becomes obsessed with 'woman heads,' noseless heads collected at the ends of mighty battles. The samurai are to collect the heads of fallen foes during battle, but the more kills, the harder it is to carry all the heads, so instead they take noses, and it is the job of a group of women to fit the noses back onto the voided faces. It is this ritual the young Lord of Musashi comes across, and the rest makes for a great read!
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