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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Longing and Other Stories

Tanizaki Jun'ichirō

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To purchase Longing and Other Stories

Title: Longing and Other Stories
Author: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō
Genre: Stories
Written: 1917/18/21 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 145 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Longing and Other Stories - US
Longing and Other Stories - UK
Longing and Other Stories - Canada
directly from: Columbia University Press
  • Three stories:
    • Longing (母を恋ふる記; 1918)
    • Sorrows of a Heretic (異端者の悲し; 1917)
    • The Story of an Unhappy Mother (不幸な母の話; 1921)
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy

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Our Assessment:

B : fine little Tanizaki-sampler

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 21/1/2022 Lesley Downer
Wall St. Journal . 7/1/2022 Brad Leithauser

  From the Reviews:
  • "In all of these three very different stories we hear Tanizaki's distinctive voice and enjoy the products of his overwrought imagination. This translation is a valuable addition to the canon." - Lesley Downer, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Better work was yet to come, but the stories are satisfying in themselves and additionally pleasing for their hints of an emergent mastery. In all three stories, tears are the universal lubricant on which the plot machinery glides. Though there’s some joking and laughter, Tanizaki’s characters are frequently observed weeping. Theirs are lives in extremis." - Brad Leithauser, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Longing and Other Stories collects three stories by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō from relatively early in his career, first published between 1917 and 1921.
       The first story, 'Longing', lives up to its descriptive full Japanese title, 母を恋ふる記, which translates, as the translators note in their Afterword, as: 'A Record of Longing for my Mother'. It sees the narrator as a child, wandering in the darkness of night in search of his mother. As revealed at the conclusion of the story -- but fairly obvious throughout --, it is a dream that is being recounted, with the narrator, now thirty-two, waking at the end; he notes that his mother had passed away two years earlier (and Tanizaki's mother had, indeed, died not long before) -- and the story shows how strongly his memory of her, and specifically his childhood longing for her (and/or a mother-figure), still haunt him.
       It's an evocative piece, Tanizaki using imagery such as the moon and childhood memories, such as his nurse intoning the phrase 'Tempura kuitai, tempura kuitai' ('Tempura, I want some. Tempura, I want some.') to the tune of the samisen he can still imagine hearing. The dream-quality fits well with these memories of childhood, vague and distorted, but also, in part, of great specificity.
       'Sorrows of a Heretic' also begins with its protagonist, Shōzaburō, dreaming -- and, aware that he is dreaming, trying to shape the dreams to his will, only to wake up fully and lose the vision that had been forming; here and throughout his wishful thinking and his fantasies fail to take any sort of real shape.
       Shōzaburō lives at home, in a family that has drifted into poverty; his fourteen-year-old sister, Tomi, is wasting away from tuberculosis. He sees himself as: "a promising young man, educated in the best schools, about to receive the title of bachelor of arts", but his sense of entitlement doesn't serve him well.
       In a few episodes -- Shōzaburō borrowing the gramophone a friend of his sister's had leant her; the time he borrowed five yen from a schoolmate and couldn't pay it back (a situation resolving itself when the friend dies); his desperate efforts to get his hands on any alcohol, leading his parents to have to hide the cooking sake from him -- Tanizaki paints a vivid portrait of this immature young man's struggles, miseries he mostly brings upon himself.
       There are times when Shōzaburō shows some self-awareness -- but his ego and his eagerness for immediate satisfactions get in the way of him ever really making anything of himself:

Though he despised his mother's selfishness and his father's lack of spirit, he couldn't deny that he was their son and that he'd inherited their weaknesses. I have exceptional talent. While he believed this, he'd loaf whenever he could -- napping, chattering, drinking, and womanizing, without making any attempt to cultivate his talent. More indolent and vain than his mother, even more spiritless than his father, he was a weak-willed, indecisive man.
       The story is framed around the inexorable decline of Tomi; unlike her brother, she gets no second chances and has no future whatsoever to hope for. Her death at the conclusion of the story is both an end-point and, possibly, a turning point: the final paragraph of the story jumps to two months later, with Shōzaburō having, perhaps, begun to make his way in the world; as the translators note in their Afterword, however: "In his final, 1955 revision, Tanizaki deleted the last paragraph" (leaving Shōzaburō in unredeemed uncertainty) -- opting for a grimmer open-ended end.
       In the final story, 'The Story of an Unhappy Mother', family again features prominently. The narrator, Hiroshi, is one of five children, and his account is of his mother, particularly after the death of his father. She lived rather happily for a time -- all along: "We indulged her, and she indulged us; and that mutual indulgence resulted in a deep love" -- , but, after Hiroshi's elder brother married, something changed.
       The story opens with the suggestion that in taking on the role of mother-in-law, with the elder brother bringing his new wife into the household, the mother changed radically. In fact, the explanation is somewhat more complicated, with Hiroshi taking his time in getting to what the pivotal event was and explaining specifically what happened. But he reveals some of the consequences right away:
She died some four or five years ago, and my brother died shortly after -- exactly one year after, to be precise. It seems clear to me now that there was a frightening connection between these two deaths. In a sense, one might say that it was my brother who killed my mother, and that it was my mother who killed my brother. His manner of death, in particular, was not of an ordinary sort.
       The family had helped the elder brother slyly manipulate their mother into believing that the choice of bride, Fujiko, was actually hers -- an amusing sort of ploy that was well-meaning but also not an entirely honest, the mother presented with facts that didn't quite correspond to the actual situation. But what was important to all was that the mother like and approve of her new daughter-in-law, and in that sense it worked.
       Things went wrong when the over-eager mother then decided she had to join up with the newlyweds on their honeymoon. They put up with that, but when she makes a poor choice as to how to travel onwards, an all too revealing moment comes about in a crisis -- and after that, nothing is ever the same again, neither for the mother nor, tragically, her elder son.
       It makes for a neat, pointed little story -- certainly the most successful of the trio.
       Longing and Other Stories is a fine and nicely varied little sampler of Tanizaki's early writing -- though just a glimpse of his very large output (even just from that time). Selecting (only) three stories that differ in style and approach but also share some elements makes for a good collection, highlighting different aspects of Tanizaki's writing. If not really very remarkable, in and of themselves, there are points of interest to all three stories -- as well as some very fine writing: there are some lovely scenes throughout these stories, from the dream-ones in 'Longing' to, for example, in 'Sorrows of a Heretic', Tomi playing records on the record-player:
Painfully wasted, the sick girl would sit up in bed with a heavy, padded robe draped over her shoulders and quietly work the turntable as her parents sat beside her, listening respectfully with bowed heads. It was a wondrous sight. The daughter's face at such times was as frightening as a shaman practicing some mysterious sorcery; the parents, for their part, looked as simpleminded as a man and woman spellbound by her magic; and the gramophone was treated like a miraculous machine beyond the comprehension of ordinary people.
       Certainly, it is good to have these examples of Tanizaki's writing available in English -- and one wishes much more of his fiction, form this period and later, were as readily available.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 January 2022

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Longing and Other Stories: Reviews: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō: 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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© 2022-2023 the complete review

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