Customer Reviews


8 Reviews
5 star:
 (4)
4 star:
 (1)
3 star:
 (2)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The World in a Grain of Sand
The Makioka Sisters (Sasame Yuki, Light Snow), first published in 1948, was written by Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965). Tanizaki wrote The Makioka Sisters after translating the Tale of Genji into modern Japanese and the Murasaki novel is said to have influenced his own. It tells of the declining years of the once powerful Makioka family and their last descendants, four...
Published on 21 Oct 2006 by Phillip Kay

versus
8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars At an Average of 130 Pages per Sister, It Ran a Bit Long
Considered Tanizaki's best novel, this work has been called a textbook of Japanese behavior. The author began writing it around 1942-3 in the midst of World War II. Magazine publication in installments was banned after the early chapters were judged insufficiently supportive of the war effort. The work was finally published in book form a few years after the war's end, in...
Published on 31 July 2008 by Reader in Tokyo


Most Helpful First | Newest First

51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The World in a Grain of Sand, 21 Oct 2006
This review is from: The Makioka Sisters (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
The Makioka Sisters (Sasame Yuki, Light Snow), first published in 1948, was written by Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965). Tanizaki wrote The Makioka Sisters after translating the Tale of Genji into modern Japanese and the Murasaki novel is said to have influenced his own. It tells of the declining years of the once powerful Makioka family and their last descendants, four sisters. It has been translated by Edward G. Seidensticker in 1957. Powerfully realistic, it mourns the passing of greatness while celebrating in wonderfully evocative detail the beauty of a particular time and place, Osaka in the 1930s. In its creation of beauty out of sadness it can be compared to another family saga, The Maias (1888), by the Portuguese master E'a de Queiroz (1845-1900).

Why is this long book, largely concerned with trivial family procedures, one of the finest novels written? It is not concerned with great events, causes or philosophies. It has little concern with the war Japan was fighting with China, and then the USA, when the book was first published. Indeed its characters don't think about the war, and in a positive way, which doesn't trivialise their concerns at all (most people in fact don't think about the reasons for a war: perhaps it's better that way). This doesn't mean the book is escapist or superficial, just as the concern with women's lifestyle, dress, makeup, etiquette or social vanity make it something written just for women (books and films were once made - by men - to capitalise on what were considered women's 'little' concerns). Tanizaki does that wonderful thing a great artist can do, he finds the universal in the most exact examination of the particular, and makes a work of relevance to us all. Read another family saga, The Brothers Karamazov (1880) and my candidate for the greatest novel yet written (though I'm more than cynical about the word 'great') and marvel at the many routes artists find to the universal.

My review is impossibly partial: The Makioka Sisters is the most beautiful novel I've ever read. The language (translation) is so smooth and flowing, the characters and situations so gentle and muted, yet precise and meaningful, that reading the book is like seeing the universe in a drop of water - you see, which is moving, and awareness of where and how you see brings amazement and then a real pleasure.

In this beautiful book the characters have a greater degree of reality than many real people - Tanizaki is a great master of characterisation. I know more about them than I do about most of the people I know. It is done by the accumulation of enormous amounts of detail, but detail which, trivial though it may appear, is just right. The result is the creation of a most ethereal and delicate beauty, a lovely world crumbling to extinction yet all the more precious because of its inevitable passing away.

Sachiko, the second sister and her husband Teinosuke are that rare achievement, a convincing depiction of really good and admirable people, though in no way heroic. They are very ordinary people, but their goodness, their little troubles and worries, their faults, even weaknesses, all serve to charm and captivate. Of all the characters in the book these two are the loveliest. It is a real affirmation of humanity to have created two such kind and gentle and sensitive people, and to have made them so real and convincing.

The careworn life of Tsuruko (first sister), the hesitations of Yukiko (third sister), the unhappiness of Taeko (Koi-san, fourth sister) all gain from contrast with the stability and happiness of Sachiko and Teinosuke. And what an evocation of the old ways of Japan. Changing rapidly even as Tanizaki writes of them.

Detail by detail - Etsuko's games with the German girl Rosemarie, Itakura's leather coat, the 'old one', Koi-san's mimicry and mingled love and resentment of Yukiko...there are literally thousands of details. Teinosuke's love of Spring in his garden, the vitamin injections the sisters take, the forthrightness of Itani - all, everyone, is so precise, not random at all, chosen to evoke mood, reveal character, show milieu.

So powerful and evocative has the book been - yet nothing really happens, except to Koi-san. The war approaches, the old Japan changes, Yukiko gets married - unforgettable!

I've seen advertised a TV serialisation of The Makioka Sisters, but can't imagine how it could succeed. So much of the book's effect is through language. Visually, certain scenes stand out, such as the cherry blossom viewing or the flood. The narrative though is largely uneventful, small actions that dramatically and convincingly reveal a character's state of mind, early history or personality.

Written with love, a strong love of people and place, the book creates love in the reader. Because of Tanizaki I have loved Osaka in the late 1930s and have learned to treasure and respect its people. For those hesitating to undertake reading such a 'Japanese' work as The Makioka Sisters there is the perfect bridging novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru, 1995) by Haruki Murakami, which does mention the war - and Charlie Parker and 'hard-boiled' detective stories and Jungian archetypes and the surreal: a roller coaster of a novel and one of the best as well.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully told and easy too read, 12 Jun 2011
This review is from: The Makioka Sisters (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
The war in Asia is already going on, and Pearl Harbor hovers on the horizon. The readers are very well aware of this, as was Tanizaki. The book was published between 1943 and 1948. To the Makioka sisters, the war is still very distant, though. The concerns that are urgent to them are of a more everyday character, not least important the matter of finding a suitable husband for Yukiko, who is past thirty. That we have this knowledge about the future will probably make the final chapters of the book seem heavy with irony to most readers.

The fortunes of the house of Makioka have been declining for some time. The junior branch, the family of Sachiko (the second sister) and her husband Teinosuke, nevertheless lead a comfortable upper middle class life near Osaka. The younger sisters prefer to stay with them. Sachiko is the center of the story, insofar as it is told mostly from her point of view. The events, however, revolve around the two younger sisters, Yukiko and Taeko. There is drama and some tragedy, but much of the book simply records fairly undramatic events in the lives of the Makiokas in the years leading up to the Pacific War. Above all, the story conjurs up a world that was already disappearing at the time of the story - and was soon to be in flames. I would describe the book as bittersweet.

To me, The Makioka Sisters was not exactly a page-turner. It took me more than a month to read all 530 pages. It was, however, a highly engaging book, beautifully told and easy too read. I never felt bored.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `The Makiokas were an old family, of course, and probably everyone in Osaka had heard of them at one time or another.', 8 Mar 2010
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Makioka Sisters (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
This story, primarily set in Osaka, spans a period of four years (from 1937 to 1941). This period, is a tumultuous period for Japan, and we view it from the perspective of one family. The Makioka is a family in decline and after the death of the parents, the husband of the eldest daughter adopts the Makioka name and becomes the head of the family. There are four sisters: the eldest is Tsuruko, married to Tetsuo (a bank employee); Sachiko, married to Teinosuke (an accountant); and the two unmarried sisters, Yukiko and Taeko, who live with Sachiko and Teinosuke.

Tradition dictates that Yukiko should be married before her younger sister, Taeko. Tradition also dictates that unmarried sisters should live with the head of the house. Some traditions, it seems, are easier to ignore than others. A number of attempts to marry off Yukiko fail: Yukiko herself, seemingly passive in many ways, exerts considerable influence from the shadows. Marriage to someone at some stage is seen as inevitable but Yukiko does not seem enthusiastic. In the meantime, Taeko is trying to live her own life.

This is an amazing novel. The shifts in fortune for the Makioka family, the changes within Japanese upper-class society, and the influences of the Western world all shape the story. On the face of it, this novel is about the minutiae of the lives of sisters during a period of four years. The turmoil of Taeko's life, the attempts to arrange a marriage for Yukiko and the challenges faced by the careworn elder sister Tsuruko with both social standing and family to maintain contrast with the comparative happiness of Sachiko's life. The detail of the lives of the sisters provides an intricate view of upper-class Osakan life immediately before World War II: tradition and obligation as well as moments of great beauty. Simply superb.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable, 27 Sep 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Makioka Sisters (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
A beautifully written novel, with a fantastic level of detail of civilian life before/during WWII in Japan. The characters and their relationships are enriched by the cultural context and provide a universal account of the issues that predominate in many people's lives.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a Japanese modern classic, 19 Aug 2007
This review is from: The Makioka Sisters (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
This is, in short, a wonderful book. The New Yorker (quoted on the cover) said, 'An extraordinary book, which can truly be said to break new ground.' One way it breaks new ground is that, while it is a family saga, the story of the Makioka family, a formerly prosperous merchant family in Osaka, it is told all in the present of the novel which moves through a period of a few years in the late 1930s; the details of the family's past are evoked only in memory. Perhaps due in part to its origin in a (wartime) newspaper serialisation (if I'm remembering that correctly), the story, not short at over 500 pages, is told with a startling economy of means. (It is presumably not entirely irrelevant to the details that Tanizaki himself came from a family whose financial fortunes declined during his adolescence.)

Tanizaki, Tokyo-born, started out as a convinced Western-oriented modernist. After the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 he changed direction, moving to Kyoto and developing an interest in the history and traditions of the Kansai region, which includes Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka (in which much of The Makioka Sisters is set). There are many oppositions at play in The Makioka Sisters (original Japanese title, 'A Light Falling of Snow') -- and 'at play' may well be exactly the right term, for there is no heavy-handedness in any of this, and, importantly, no judgment. I say this aware that many find a nostalgia for an older Japan in Tanizaki but I think of him, on the evidence of this novel, more as a clear-eyed observer of change than one with a sentimental longing for a Japan before ... when? The Showa period? The Taisho period? If rigid Japanese tradition were followed, the set-up of the novel could not exist -- and one of the recurring variations on the traditional vs. modern theme is the series of stratagems used to allow the unmarried third and fourth sisters to live with the (married) second sister in Ashiya, close to Osaka, rather than, first, Osaka itself, then, Tokyo, with the eldest sister and her husband who is, in accordance with tradition and more or less actively so, head of the extended family.

Yukiko, the third daughter, is of an age, more than of an age, at which she must be married (off). In so far as there's a single thread binding the novel together, it is the family's efforts to find a husband for Yukiko. Yukiko is the most traditional of the Makioka sisters: she never wears Western dress. Taeko (familiarly called 'Koi-san' in accordance with Osaka usage) is the youngest; she rarely wears anything but Western dress, has a Russian friend (among many details of a life lead that is far from Japanese tradition), and cannot wait for Yukiko to be married -- by the start of the novel, she has already tried an unsuccessful elopement. (By tradition, she cannot marry until Yukiko is married.) Sachiko, the second daughter, falls in between, neither dead set on tradition, nor obsessed with things western. (Her children have German playmates, through the accident of to whom a neighbour's house may be rented.) Sachiko's increasingly difficult task, shared with her husband, Teinosuke (who, like the eldest sister, Tsuruko's husband, has taken the Makioka name), is to maintain a semblance of order and normality in the Ashiya household while maintaining good relations with her eldest sister and brother-in-law.

Oppositions: the obvious one is Japanese tradition vs. Westernization (in all its many forms and both political and cultural, both public and familial); family vs. individual; commerce vs. culture; Kansai vs. Tokyo (or Kanto region). None of these, but perhaps most obviously, because most prominent, the first, is at all straightforward. Taeko is the most modern, most westernized of the sisters, but, in an attempt to make her own way, a very non-traditional thing to do, she takes up doll-making, a traditional activity, and later traditional dance. Japan has changed enormously since the Second World War (and the reader interested in immediate post-War Japanese reaction to those changes could do worse than read Fumiko Hayashi's Floating Clouds), but it was already changing, and had been changing since the 1860s. As always with a family saga, one has to engage with local details, and with The Makioka Sisters perhaps more of these are unusual, sometimes (for this reader) quite unexpected -- e.g., the family's casual use of vitamin B injections to counter beri-beri. But this is not a classic of exoticism. It is one of the great novels of the twentieth century because of its human qualities; the three sisters in Ayisha and Teinosuke are characters one is very quickly involved with and very quickly comes to care about.

I suspect -- I don't know nearly enough about this to do more than merely suspect -- that this novel reads rather differently in Japan than in the West. It's my guess that western readers are less shocked at, and more supportive of, Taeko's bids for independence; conversely, we may find Yukiko less sympathetic than did Japanese readers of the 1940s, and possibly even today. If I'm right about this then maybe we're getting something wrong in terms of the author's intentions but even if we are, it's still a wonderfully involving read: Nobel Prize material. (Tanizaki, it is said, deliberately blotted his prospective Nobel copybook with Diary of a Mad Old Man.)

Few novels end on such a disconcertingly unresolving note as 'Yukiko's diarrhea persisted through the twenty-sixth, and was a problem on the train to Tokyo.' BTW, this shows that the translation into English is American. Seidensticker's translation dates from the late 50s; it shows its age here and there but mostly reads well enough.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars At an Average of 130 Pages per Sister, It Ran a Bit Long, 31 July 2008
This review is from: The Makioka Sisters (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Considered Tanizaki's best novel, this work has been called a textbook of Japanese behavior. The author began writing it around 1942-3 in the midst of World War II. Magazine publication in installments was banned after the early chapters were judged insufficiently supportive of the war effort. The work was finally published in book form a few years after the war's end, in 1948. The English translation came out in 1957.

The novel began in the late 1930s among a formerly wealthy merchant family from Osaka and ended around 1940, before the outbreak of war with Great Britain and the United States. The family consisted of two married sisters, with their husbands and children, and two younger, unmarried sisters. Much of the novel dealt with the family's concerns about finding a suitable groom for the third sister and determining whether the fourth sister should be allowed to travel abroad, take up a trade, and continue meeting a suitor from the past. There was seemingly endless description of these two concerns, mainly from the second sister's point of view.

Determining a proper marriage candidate for the third sister meant endless rounds of negotiation with each successive prospect. Each point of discussion was passed up through the hierarchy of the family ranks for decision, with soundings carefully taken of everyone's potential reaction, and any eventual decisions that resulted then passed back down. Any unexpected development restarted the cycle. Throughout, it was essential to show outward respect for the proper forms, maintain the face appropriate to one's place in society and keep the family's name unsullied. The sister herself, the one on whose behalf the entire family was working, showed the least interest of all in tying the knot and was content to remain dependent. Given all this, it was no wonder she was long past marriageable age.

With the fourth sister, by tradition her conduct was regulated by the family of the first sister. The family heads were so stuck in the past, however, that their decisions for her bore little relation to what realistically she needed to do. Ready to marry, she wasn't free to act until a groom for the third sister was chosen. The second sister, her go-between within the family, sympathized with the predicament but wished to avoid a family upset. This meant endless thinking about how to divine everyone's true motives and spin discussions, avoiding confrontation while protecting the family name. And continued reproaches to herself or others -- thought but unexpressed -- for hesitation or lack of proper consideration. What happened in effect was continued avoidance of any clear resolution until too late, when events forced the family's hands, so to speak.

The author was skilled at setting up contrasts between the actions of the two younger sisters or the two older sisters, and at establishing situations where a character would condemn another for something and behave later in a similar way. When action on a larger scale occurred from time to time -- a flood, a medical crisis -- his powers of description were memorable. And the irony of the conclusion, after the family's endless consideration of its good name, was very pointed. Not to mention the irony of having the novel conclude, after more than 500 pages, with hoped-for events still in the future.

At the same time, what I could appreciate was affected eventually by the book's seemingly interminable proceedings. One wondered sometimes whether the author was intentionally drawing out things to the point of parody. I also had trouble figuring out exactly where the author's sympathies lay. With Teinosuke, the second sister's husband? Not with any of the four sisters, it seemed, most of whom were described from the outside, none of whom received compassion unmixed with mockery. The characters were almost entirely closed to each other, rarely if ever sharing their deeper thoughts. And how class-bound they were, so much of the time.

For reasons like these, I didn't enjoy the book all that much. Another novel read recently that was set in the past and focused on the lives of women -- The Doctor's Wife by Sawako Ariyoshi - with a far narrower scope, less mastery and much less detail but with clearer, unalloyed compassion, was preferred.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition is flawed, 22 Jan 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a wonderful novel, but unfortunately the Kindle edition is littered with misprints and typos. The publisher obviously did not spend the time to correct the mistakes from the scanned text. It is a shame that a publisher can allow such sloppiness to occur; it certainly does detract from the reading experience. Five stars for the book, one star for the edition.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a chronicle of family and domestic life in 1930s japan, 10 Mar 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Not all that much happens in "the Makioka Sisters" - this is not, by the way, its real title - it is an invention of the translator. A slight shower of snow seems to be more like it (according to the translator), with a pun on the name of the third sister (in terms of age). And if the title had been about sisters, it would have been Three Sisters (referring to the three sisters who mostly figure in the story, not the full quartet).

The second sister is married to a businessman/writer and the two younger sisters are both unmarried. The third, highly traditional, has a series of "miai", meetings with arranged partners, through the book. But finds it problematic to marry, being quite introverted and withdrawn, but a person of great value. The youngest sister is traditionally expected to hold off marriage until all the older sisters are accounted for. But, more Westernised and outgoing and adventurous, she is not short of offers.

What does happen? A series of "miai". Events in the love life of the youngest sister which are not always transparent to her sisters at the time of their occurence (or even later). Relevations form part of the plot. Other parts concern the relations with the eldest sister in the "main house", the family life of the second sister (her young daughter is a prominent character). And beyond that: a Great Flood (life threatening), grangrene, dysentery, miscarriage, visits to see the cherry blossom and a range of social engagements - often with visitors to Japan (the German neighbours, Russian friends) - which helps remind us that war will soon be with everyone.

For me: not so gripping that I'll be rushing out to buy further works by this novelist. But different, certainly; and quite impressive in its own quiet way.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Makioka Sisters (Vintage Classics)
The Makioka Sisters (Vintage Classics) by Junichiro Tanizaki (Paperback - Feb 2000)
6.99
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews