Naomi (Vintage International) (英語) ペーパーバック – 2001/4/10
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Junichiro Tanizaki’s Naomi is both a hilarious story of one man’s obsession and a brilliant reckoning of a nation’s cultural confusion.
When twenty-eight-year-old Joji first lays eyes upon the teenage waitress Naomi, he is instantly smitten by her exotic, almost Western appearance. Determined to transform her into the perfect wife and to whisk her away from the seamy underbelly of post-World War I Tokyo, Joji adopts and ultimately marries Naomi, paying for English and music lessons that promise to mold her into his ideal companion. But as she grows older, Joji discovers that Naomi is far from the naïve girl of his fantasies. And, in Tanizaki’s masterpiece of lurid obsession, passion quickly descends into comically helpless masochism.
“In a class with Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Lolita. . . . Powerfully erotic, directly funny, a great novelist’s masterpiece.”
“Joji [is] exquisitely drawn, his uncomprehending guilelessness the perfect tool for the author’s deft cross-cultural thrusts.”
—The Washington Post Book Review
Part Lolita and part Frankenstein, the story begins with his manipulation of her but she grows into a self absorbed and selfish creature who seems to delight in his humiliation.
Written in a very straightforward style and with an excellent translation in this version, Naomi is a novel that is set in a Japan going through significant social changes and the portrayal that Tanazaki provides of a Tokyo in transition and the underside of a society with a collective inferiority complex is deeply atmospheric and gritty. In turn the two main characters are fairly despicable and yet the book resonates and made me want to explore more of this man's work.
The plot is truly original, at least it was in 1924, and the twists and turns really keep you reading with interest. This book was written before Lolita, so if anything Lolita borrowed from this story. There was absolutely not one time during reading the book that I became bored. The translation is practically flawless.
My opinion is that the book does indeed have an admirable character, which is Joji. He cannot help that he is so obsessed, and in the end you feel sorry for him and come to relate to him, no matter how weak he is.
While the East vs. West theme is there, I really don't think this should be considered the defining theme of the book at all, and sometimes its best not to try to read too deep into things because you can end up making things up that the author wasn't even trying to convey.
As another reviewer stated, this book is truly a bitter love story more than anything else; and one of the best books I have ever read.
We were to read it in a week, which is quite the task with a full schedule. I finished it in three days and reread it a week later. I was amazed at its intricacies.
The story is set in early 1920s Japan, a period when the import of Western fashion, style and culture was at its height and every Japanese person found him or herself enamored with imported American and European literature, dance, clothing and people.
Naomi is a young Japanese waitress with a Western look that a man named Joji finds himself obsessing over at first sight. Even her name, he remarks, resembles Western names. He adopts her and begins to mold her into his perfect woman. The story follows his continual perfecting of her behavior, and her treatment of him. The question soon arises, however, as to who is truly the dominant force in their fragile relationship.
In what I've now come to find is Tanizaki standard, all is never as it seems, and the relationships established throughout the story are rarely as simple as they first appear.
"Naomi" serves as a primer to Tanizaki's entire body of work, being one of his earliest full-length novels and coming before his shift from an obsession with the West to a love of his own traditional Japanese culture.
Since reading it, I've had the opportunity to read much of the rest of his work, and I'm thankful I started with "Naomi". Tanizaki is cited as shifting his views of the West soon after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and "Naomi", published in 1924, is his work at that tipping point. Although on the surface it seems to praise a Western infatuation, it throws into question what damage it's doing to the Japanese mind and culture.
A powerful work of perverse fiction, and a great introduction to the twisted, cerebral world of Jun'ichiro Tanizaki, I highly recommend "Naomi" to readers tired of the typical stories that are so prevalent in our modern literature and as an introduction to the world of one of the greatest 20th century Japanese authors.