The Waiting Years

女坂
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Kodansha
1957
Paperback
203
Japanese
John Bester
April 14, 2021 April 19, 2021

The beautiful, immature girl whom she took home to her husband was a maid only in name. Tomo's real mission had been to find him a mistress. Nor did her secret humiliation end there. The web that his insatiable lust spun about him soon trapped another young woman, and another ... and the relationships between the women thus caught were to form, over the years, a subtle, shifting pattern in which they all played a part. There was Suga, the innocent, introspective girl from a respectable but impoverished family; the outgoing, cheerful, almost boyish Yumi; the flirtatious, seductive Miya, who soon found her father-in-law more dependable as a man than his brutish son.... And at the center, rejected yet dominating them all, the near tragic figure of the wife Tomo, whose passionate heart was always, until that final day, held in check by an old-fashioned code.

In a series of colorful, unforgettable scenes, Enchi brilliantly handles the human interplay within the ill-fated Shirakawa family. Japan's leading woman novelist and a member of the prestigious Art Academy, she combines a graceful, evocative style that consciously echoes the Tale of Genji with keen insight and an impressive ability to develop her characters over a long period of time. Her work is rooted deep in the female psychology, and it is her women above all-so clearly differentiated yet all so utterly feminine-who live in the memory. With The Waiting Years, a new and important literary figure makes her debut in the Western world.

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About the book

End of Edo Period, a state official asks his wife to find a new concubine among the young ladies who are offered by the most respectable families in Tokyo. Tomo knows that she must obey to her husband but her heart breaks nonetheless.

What I think

Since I am a 20th century woman, it’s hard to accept this old mentality, but I understand that this is how it was and I can’t do anything of course. I see that the man who is the master was everywhere,  even in my loved Japan and the sad part is that in certain parts of the world this things still happen.

What I really can’t accept is that it’s the wife that must search for a new girl (young girl, can I add?). I understand that the book is set in a different period than mine and a different reality, but I can’t accept that a woman lower herself so much for a man. What makes me laugh is that the “man” isn’t able to find a girl to bed so he gives this task to her wife. I mean he is just a lazy human being.

Another thinks that med me laugh (with disgust, may I add) is that the concubine that leave the house is sad but happy for the concubine that remains in the house O_o . I know that this is my mentality that think like that because her explanation about why she is sad to leave are valid, but from a 20th century mentality point of view, it’s strange.

The book was written in another time, it’s clear how the female figure is seen as the one who lives in the shadow of the husband and it is a book that denunce the women’s conditions of the time (of what they had to undergo to ensure that the husband was always happy, a husband who was often a master – as well as a slacker -).

Characters

There are many characters and I think that the author gets also confused or maybe I have missed some passages. In the third part Tomo’s nephew, Takao, is introduced. Takao has just returned from high school to prepare for the exam for the university. He is the firstborn that Tomo’s son had with his first wife who later died in childbirth. In a few pages later, the stepbrother, Kazuya, is introduced and it is said that he attends Keio University (but which university is not important). Now do you understand what the problem is? How is it possible that the stepbrother from a second marriage goes to university if the firstborn (and therefore older) has yet to enter?

There’s more. His half-sister Ruriko is said to be in the fifth year of the girls’ boarding school. Now, it is not clear whether she is in fifth year of high school or elementary school. If it were the first case it would be a translation error because “the fifth grade of high school” doesn’t exist in Japan (but it is also true that we are in a different era and that I do not know how the Japanese school was structured in the 19th century. But there are specific names for the different grades of the Japanese school therefore as a translator it should not be difficult to call a certain level by the appropriate name). “Fifth year” can refer to elementary school and if that were the case Takao would be attracted to his 10-year-old sister who in itself being attracted to her stepsister is not a good thing even if it also exists in reality, but moreover that the object of attraction is a child, it’s even more horrendous. But having seen the whole book I can also understand that this aspect exists or existed … (on the other hand, kings over fifty years old have always married teenagers even in Europe).

Conclusion

Even thought I don’t share the same thought, I really liked the book like every time Japan is the set of a book.

Curiosity

I find it incredible that I usually don’t know the places mentioned in a book set in Japan, but here they talk about Fukushima and Tomo is from Kumamoto. Two earthquakes that I know thanks to a certain Japanese figure skater (well one of them was so disastrous that all the world remember or should remember).

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