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The Makioka Sisters Paperback – September 26, 1995

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 26, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679761640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679761648
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The four Makioka sisters lead very complicated, strenuous lives, although on the surface nothing much ever happens to them. Part of a fading Japanese aristocracy in the years leading up to World War II, they cannot escape the wide net of the family name--something always brings them back to the reality of "being a Makioka." Running out of money, living in falling-apart houses, growing older beneath the sunlight of the modern world, they do their best to preserve the rituals of the past. The two older sisters work diligently to arrange a marriage for the third sister, Yukiko. Desperate to find someone to take care of her, they keep lowering their standards. One night they find themselves out with a drunk, selfish crackpot who has no money, but who is supposed to be related to a man who works for an important utility company. The fact that he is even a candidate for their sister's hand is a sign of how far they have fallen.

There are other signs in this remarkable, utterly compelling Japanese epic. At one point, a flood overwhelms their small town of Osaka. The youngest sister, Taeko, is having tea at the impeccably decorated home where her sewing teacher, Mrs. Tamaki, lives with her son Hiroshi. When the rain first appears beneath the door,

the three were still rather enjoying themselves, shouting at each other in the best of spirits. They all had a good laugh when Hiroshi, reaching to grab the briefcase in which he had brought home his school books, bumped his head on the bobbing radio. But after perhaps a half hour, there came a moment when the three fell silent. Almost immediately, Taeko remembered afterwards, the water was above her waist. As she clutched at a curtain, a picture fell from over her head; the curtain had probably brushed against it. It was a picture Mrs. Tamaki was especially fond of.
Junichiro Tanizaki wrestled throughout his career with the idea of a country where tribes of aristocrats live as relics, grasping at the past through gestures, manners, small and intricate private laws. The narrative suspense of The Makioka Sisters is rooted in this single-minded nostalgia, this strict attention to the details of domestic life as the outer world becomes more and more incomprehensible. Pages are devoted to musing about whether Yukiko should "risk" meeting a potential husband when there is a spot above her eye--maybe she should play it safe and go to the doctor about it; maybe the potential husband will interpret it as bad luck. Tanizaki manages to make the struggle over this small, dark spot wildly compelling. I could not sleep until I discovered its fate.

If epic literature is based in the dramatic and forward-moving narrative of a male hero's journey, The Makioka Sisters is a female epic of inaction--trying to figure out what to wear, crying for no reason at the same time every afternoon. With each perilous, pathetic step, the sisters are heroes setting out for the new world. They're like Odysseus, except without the ship and without the sea. --Emily White


Praise for Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters

“A masterpiece of great beauty and quality.” –Chicago Tribune

“Skillfully and subtly, Tanizaki brushes in a delicate picture of a gentle world that no longer exists.” –San Francisco Chronicle

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

This book has often been called the best Japanese novel of the twentieth century.
Quinton Fox
In this beautiful book the characters have a greater degree of reality than many real people - Tanizaki is a great master of characterisation.
Phillip Kay
One thing that may seem strange to some readers is the way that world events of the time are understated.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Phillip Kay on November 5, 2005
Format: 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 Eça 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.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful By pnotley@hotmail.com on March 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Makioka Sisters is a special novel for two reasons. Much of Japanese literature this century is very taut and relatively short. One thinks of Soseki, Mishima, Dazai, Kawabata and the two most important of Tanizaki's other novels, Some Prefer Nettles and Diary of a Mad Old Man. Instead of being 150-200 pages, this book is around 500 pages. The popular description of this book, about a merchant family in decline, might imply a book like Budenbrooks. Yet this book is very different from Thomas Mann's fine novel. For a start it only covers four years, not a couple of generations. More important the theme of decline is not a primary one, and Mann's theme of cultural enervation is absent.
What we have instead is a book that seeks to be a work of "photographic realism." It seeks to be "real" not in the sense that Flaubert or James or Tolstoy are realistic. Instead of portraying complex themes and ideas while keeping an eye on what would be actually plausible, Tanizaki seeks to describe what actually happens. This sort of realism is not highly valued since it is often unimiginative and often psychologically shallow. And indeed in this book it can often appear tedious and unrewarding. But a closer examination reveals certain virtues.
In a sense Tanizaki's book is "like life." The story of Taeko of of the youngest sister who cannot marry because custom dictates she must wait for her older sister Yukiko to be married. The story of her two possible fiancess and the eventual pre-marital pregnancy appear, not as part of a complex, organic scheme as, say, the story of Anna Karenina, but as a series of discrete events, moved often by coincidence and chance.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Angry Mofo on June 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
The first time I read The Makioka Sisters, I called it "fragile and lovely." Recently, I read it again. It's not really fragile and lovely. Actually, it's very matter-of-fact. The narrative mostly recounts events and the characters' reactions to the events. There isn't much description or imagery, like in Kawabata. Even big events like the Osaka flood are recounted straightforwardly, with precision instead of lyricism.

But the book is very perceptive about its characters. Tanizaki knew everything about the social class of the Makioka family. The book is full of countless trivial little details about their daily habits, mannerisms, styles of dress and conversations. For example, during one of the family's attempts to marry off the third sister Yukiko, the prospective husband is concerned that she seems moody, and the whole family tries to dissuade him in writing and on the phone. Tanizaki perfectly captures the frantic, businesslike quality of the negotiations, simply by describing their arguments at length. He is so perfectly attuned to the routine of a family of this class that, just by describing it, he can recreate a whole period of history. And his extensive knowledge of small details also makes the narrative very lively, and often funny. The book moves slowly, but I found it addictively readable, both the first time and now.

The book is much more than a period piece. It captures the superficiality and transience of a sense of closeness between people. The four Makioka sisters are surely very close to one another. They've been together since they were little, and they get along very well. The three younger sisters live under the same roof until they're all well over thirty. Basically they're each other's closest friends.
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