The novel is about Kaname and Misako, a married couple that is no longer in love. Both are having affairs, both are interested in divorce, but both arThe novel is about Kaname and Misako, a married couple that is no longer in love. Both are having affairs, both are interested in divorce, but both are putting off the end of the marriage, both to conform to social standards and to avoid the pain and changes that come with such a decision.
At the same time that Kaname is working towards this very modern life change - divorce - he is becoming increasingly interested in traditional Japanese culture. He goes to several traditional puppet shows with his father-in-law and begins to fall for his father-in-laws girlfriend/consort O-hisa, who dresses, bathes, and generally lives in old-fashioned styles at the behest of her keeper.
This coupling of nostalgia with modernity, and the descriptions of lives lived right on the cusp of this change, as awareness and interest in western culture is beginning to grow in Japan, is a major theme of the novel and of Tanizaki's work in general. The most fascinating aspect is watching Kaname's internal struggle. As his interest in traditional culture grows, so does his wish for divorce. Early on, it seems that his hesitation to bite the bullet is based on social appearances -- what will others, including his father-in-law, think of him and Misako if they part ways? As the novel progresses though, it becomes more and more clear that Kaname is struggling within himself just as much. He fears the change for both himself and Misako, who he deeply cares about even if he does not love her.
To put it simply, Kaname is comfortable in the status quo and reluctant to change, even though it would bring both him and Misako happiness.
Another interesting aspect of the novel is its uncertain ending. I won't say too much about what happens, but suffice it to say that Tanizaki leaves Kaname on the precipice of a decision. There are very different paths available to him, and we do not learn which one he takes. This is the ultimate example of the vagueness that is very much a part of Tanizaki's writing style, and something that is even described in the novel as being typical of traditional Japanese writing:
"The composers didn't think about grammar. If you see generally what was in their hearts, that's really enough. The vagueness is rich in its own way."
Tanizaki intends for us as readers to gather clues about Kaname - who he is, how he behaves - and determine for ourselves what decision Kaname will make. I know what I think he will do, and I found the lack of ending more of a fun exercise than a disappointment.
"It seems logical that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of a war against civilians. The crux of the matter is whether total war"It seems logical that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of a war against civilians. The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result?"
Very soon after the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Hersey wrote this in-depth report about the experiences of six people who lived in Hiroshima during and immediately after the bombing. One was nearly buried alive, one had his home fall into the sea, one managed to survive and save all three of her children, two helped to save countless others, and all six suffered long-term effects of the radiation, whether or not they had serious injuries from the bomb itself. All six lost their homes and many friends, neighbors, and family members. The story was originally published in full in the New Yorker, taking up an entire issue.
The six stories are reported in great detail and Hersey's skills as a novelist as well as a journalist shine through - many scenes are breathtakingly visual. One scene stands out in my mind especially - the crowd of injured people by the river who are slowly being brought across a few at a time in a boat with no oar while the fire rages behind them.
Overall, the story is absolutely heartbreaking and a potent reminder of the sheer destruction humans are capable of. The damage described is overwhelming and the residents of Hiroshima who survived the bomb and didn't later succumb to fire, drowning, untreated injury, or radiation poisoning were extremely lucky.
As long as nuclear war is even a remote possibility in our world, this story is important to revisit - to my mind, nothing can justify that level of violent destruction.
Themes: WW2, Japan, atomic bomb, war, civilians, death, tragedy, essay...more
This classic novel of science fiction is the story of Shevek, a physicist from a 150-year-old socialist-anarchist experimental utopia on a moon. He haThis classic novel of science fiction is the story of Shevek, a physicist from a 150-year-old socialist-anarchist experimental utopia on a moon. He has begun to see cracks in his society, and a return to the ways that the founders left their home planet to escape. He travels to that home planet, with the ultimate goal of "tearing down walls."
Written in 1974, the novel was an instant hit and won both the Nebula and Hugo awards. The primary theme of the novel is an illustration of the merits and dangers of anarchy and socialism. These ideas, while interesting, do read a little bit like a product of their time.
What makes the novel a must-read to this day are the other universal and complex themes it also tackles, including gender equality, the nature of time, and what it really means to be free.
The discussion of freedom occurs at two levels: the freedom of the individual and the freedom of ideas. The novel clearly advocates for personal freedom and glorifies an individual's right to determine what s/he does for a living and for pleasure, who s/he loves, how s/he lives, etc., without any caveats. The implication here is that people are genuinely good and genuinely care about each other and about contributing something positive to the world.
This freedom was so important to the founders of the society where Shevek lives that they see even having possessions or, in many cases, committed relationships, as a prison. Children are named randomly by a computer and raised in group dormitory settings. Few people have monogamous partnerships and sexual relations happen easily and often. People own little more than a set of clothes or two and go to cafeterias for food. As Shevek says to the people on the home planet when he visits:
"Because our men and women are free--possessing nothing, they are free. And you the possessors are possessed. You are all in jail. Each alone, solitary, with a heap of what he owns."
The freedom of ideas is central to the novel, and is central to Shevek's quest: he has discovered a physics formula of great importance and wants to share it with everyone in all societies on all planets. The importance of shared ideas is stated most clearly in this passage:
"It is of the nature of idea to be communicated: written, spoken, done. The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on."
The plot moves very slowly overall, and I was more than halfway through the book before it really picked up speed. Part of this is due to the necessity of world-building, part of this is due to the non-linear structure, and part of this is due to the frequent asides on physics, philosophy, relationships, and political systems. The slow pace didn't bother me much, but if you prefer adventure or galactic battles in your sci-fi, this isn't going to hit the spot for you.
If, however, you're curious what a society where freedom is the ultimate (and only) collective value might look like, this novel is fascinating. And if you're looking for thought-provoking discussion and the occasional beautifully-written sentence (somewhat rare in science fiction!) look no further. Case in point:
"'If you can see a thing whole,' he said, 'it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives ... But close up, a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.'"...more
This was a very quick and easy read that had me chuckling every five or ten pages or so. It is overall very light reading. Feels honest in a self-deprThis was a very quick and easy read that had me chuckling every five or ten pages or so. It is overall very light reading. Feels honest in a self-deprecating and occasionally silly way, and provides more fun than food for thought. I did appreciate Fey's thoughts on being a working woman and mother, and was most interested in her thoughts (and mixed feelings) about playing Sarah Palin on SNL. If you need airplane reading or a book to take to the beach, or just generally want something fun that you can finish in a day, this is a great choice.