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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Red Roofs & Other Stories

by
Tanizaki Jun'ichirō


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Red Roofs & Other Stories



Title: Red Roofs & Other Stories
Author: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō
Genre: Stories
Written: 1917-26 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Red Roofs & Other Stories - US
Red Roofs & Other Stories - UK
Red Roofs & Other Stories - Canada
(Storia di Tomoda e Matsunaga) - Italia
  • Four stories, originally published between 1917 to 1926
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting variety; nice sampler

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Red Roofs & Other Stories collects four early works by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō, first published between 1917 and 1926. Though three of the four are written in the first person, they are surprisingly varied in style and content, the selection highlighting Tanizaki's range, making it a good sampler volume. (The translators also seem to enjoy the variety, which allows them to show their range as well, in almost playful manner.)
       The longest piece is 'The Strange Case of Tomoda and Matsunaga' (友田と松永の話, 1926), filling half the volume and essentially a novella. It is narrated by: "the famous novelist F.K.". He gets a lot of fan mail, but the lengthy letter he describes receiving, and then reproduces, at the beginning of his account is rather different than what he usual gets. The woman who sent it, Matsunaga Shigeko, relates her odd personal circumstances -- she married a man named Matsunaga Gisuke fifteen years earlier, and every few years this Matsunaga disappears for a few years, before then again returning to the fold as if nothing had happened or changed. Upon his most recent return, his wife managed to get a peak into the satchel he had brought back with him -- his only luggage -- and found some odds and ends in it, including a postcard, addressed to one Tomoda Ginzō, the return address being that of F.K. She writes to the author in the hopes that he can help clear up why her husband has this postcard (and other things) of this man Tomoda Ginzō, whom she has never heard of.
       F.K. doesn't remember the exact details surrounding the writing of the postcard, but he does know Tomoda Ginzō. Matsunaga's wife wonders whether her husband might not be leading some sort of double life, alternating between being 'Matsunaga' and being 'Tomoda', and F.K. is curious about the matter as well, and begins looking into it. The dates seem to match -- Tomoda has a habit of dropping out of sight for extended periods as well, before popping up again in new surroundings -- but a lot else doesn't, including their physical appearance (one is fat, one thin, for example).
       With the obvious suggestion of 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' in the title, Tanizaki does play with identity-mystery here, the stark differences between 'Matsunaga' and 'Tomoda' long leaving at least some doubt whether they could possibly be the same person. In coming clean and clearing up the identity-question, Tomoda becomes even more of a figure between times and cultures, the traditional Japanese contrasting with the lure of the decadent West (Tomoda lived in Paris, and has run what are essentially bordellos in Japan). With explicit references to Poe in the story itself, along with F.K. privy to some of Tomoda's lurid, escapist lifestyle, Tanizaki quite effectively evokes an atmosphere of mystery and decadence. If in part far-fetched, 'The Strange Case of Tomoda and Matsunaga' is still quite artfully presented -- in part also thanks to a leisurely pace, as the story (and mystery) is spread out over several years, with no one in any particular rush to put all the pieces together.
       'A Night in Qinhuai' (秦淮の夜, 1919) is narrated by a Japanese visitor to Nanjing, venturing out with a Chinese guide for local food and then looking for some potentially more intimate fun -- on the dark opposite bank of the river, the pleasure quarter. A voyage into the seedier underside of the Chinese city, the story offers a different sort of exoticism -- though with sex very much part of it. A smaller period piece, it is of some interest for the atmosphere -- and Tanizaki's exploration of the darker worlds of sex -- but also a decidedly minor work.
       The relatively simple descriptive account of 'A Night in Qinhuai' contrasts with the fantastical 'The Magician' (魔術師, 1917), with its far more rich language and vivid, almost hallucinatory imaginings. From its opening sentence -- "I no longer remember in what city it was, or in which country, that I met the magician" -- the story is unmoored, more like a dream-vision than any possible reality. But the narrator very effectively recounts his story, with its relatively simple plot -- a woman he is involved with suggests they go to a sort of amusement park, and then that they attend one of the performances of a magician who puts on a show there -- veering back and forth between the realistic and the absurd.
       The narrator is ungrounded from the start, and everything about the events is unsettling -- from the fact that he doesn't even know there is a park in the city when she first suggests it, to how: "something dubious lurked in her words, as if she were inciting me to a secret evil". It's a story that would fit in any European anthology of fin de siècle decadent fiction, with Tanizaki inspired in his invention, from the audience at the magician's show to the crowning act, and the narrator succumbing to it.
       The final story, 'Red Roofs', (赤い屋根, 1925) most resembles the Tanizaki familiar from his novels, a realistic tale of a young woman growing restless and seeing little future as an "underpaid actress", and stringing along various men as she now considers what kind of future she wants. She lives with a hunchbacked younger cousin, O-miyo, who efficiently takes care of everything in the house, and is essentially kept by the seedy older Odagiri, an arrangement that makes life easy on her (even if it isn't proving to be entirely satisfactory):

Mayuko did not enjoy doing anything for herself, and so the psychologically crippled Odagiri and the physically crippled O-miyo saw to it together that their mistress need not lift a finger.
       Mayuko's dissatisfaction comes to the fore here, as she tests various opportunities, seeing whether she wants to -- and can -- reposition herself. It's a solid little character study, with the creepy sordid undertones to the various lives familiar from so much of Tanizaki's work -- all the more intriguing because of its strong (and almost predatory) female lead.
       Red Roofs & Other Stories is a solid little collection, and certainly of interest.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 May 2017

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Links:

Red Roofs & Other Stories: Reviews: Other books by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (谷崎 潤一郎) lived 1886 to 1965.

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© 2017 the complete review

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