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The Waiting Years

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,738 ratings  ·  185 reviews
The beautiful, immature girl whom she took home to her husband was a maid only in name. Tomo's real mission had been to find him a mistress. Nor did her secret humiliation end there. The web that his insatiable lust spun about him soon trapped another young woman, and another ... and the relationships between the women thus caught were to form, over the years, a subtle, sh ...more
Paperback, 203 pages
Published September 13th 2002 by Kodansha (first published 1957)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  1,738 ratings  ·  185 reviews

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May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
My Asian classic entry for the annual classics bingo is The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi. Considered the grand dame of Japanese literature with a life spanning most of the 20th century, The Waiting Years is Enchi's crowning achievement. The novel took her seven years to complete and won the prestigious Noma Prize in 1957. A story set in the colonial Meiji period, The Waiting Years is a tale about a man of prominence, his astute wife, and his unquenched lust for women that lands him multiple con ...more
Jim Fonseca
Dec 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
The author was a Grand Dame of Japanese literature (1905-1986). Although this book was published in 1957 it’s set at the end of the Meiji period in the very late 1800’s, still the horse and carriage era.

The main theme is the absolute domination by males in the patriarchal society of the time. When the story opens the patriarch is 40-ish; his wife is in her 30’s. He’s a high-level police administrator in a time of anti-republican sentiment. He’s cruel, aloof, self-centered and corrupt.

He’s tire
Aug 11, 2014 rated it really liked it

Not a single strand of hair loosened from the perfect coiffure, a fulsome smile tripping from the corners of her mouth putting a Noh mask to shame, confident in her posture, her heart being swept by violent sea of excruciating conflicts; there she sat gazing into the naivety of a girl-child untouched by the menstrual years. The woman in her fluttering between agony and envy, empathetic towards the fate of an adolescent girl whereas the wife in her scrupulously astute in the ongoing task, a “dist
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Cheryl by: Praj
"The strength that was a fraction greater than his own made him feel ill at ease in her presence."

The quiet, abiding strength that a woman unknowingly (sometimes knowingly) possesses, a force that rests upon the floor of her instincts and lives within the crevice of her subconscious; a force sometimes never uncovered from the hidden spaces of her conscious, because it adheres to the lies of the community around her. It is the kind of strength that instills within her a calmness that jolts; t
Jr Bacdayan
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Torn between her inviolable sense of duty as a wife and her intense passion as a lover, we meet the heroine of this tale, Tomo, during her quest to find a worthy concubine for her husband. From here we meet different women cast together by fate to become bound to one man and his sexual whims. A man who is able to do so because of his position, influence, and wealth. But this book is not a depiction of his strength. This is a testament to all the women who endured despite him, and a great woman w ...more
She felt like laughing at Michimasa and the other husband, Iwamoto–laughing with the utterly cold and beautiful laugh of the harpy who rips open the bellies of pregnant women...
It is peculiar, how one is expected to react to the codifications of lust. The age of consent in the US may no longer be seven, as it was around the time Tomo was growing through her prime, but the tenterhooks upon which the sexual impulses of young females are put are still a marvel to behold. Of course, Japan i
The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi brings an in-depth look at the lives of four women in a male-dominated Japanese society. Originally published in 1957, this is a beautifully written story of Tomo, Suga, Yumi, and Miya. With heart-wrenching prose, we experience their loneliness and struggles through their long waiting years.

Fumiko Enchi has a simple style of writing and develops her characters in a subtle lovely way. This is not a book to be rushed through. The novel starts out slow but progres
Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂
What this slim volume lacks in pages it makes up in power & beautiful, careful writing. There is not a word wasted. In one case, too much so as I found the introduction of their son into the story quite jarring.

I originally thought that husband Yukitomo was as much a victim of late 19th century customs as the unfortunate women who he controls, but now I think he was just a self centred, not very bright jerk, who never realised what a treasure he had in his wife, Tomo.

I've thought about what I kn
Life is one long wait. A series of goals and milestones reached -- large and small --with a lot of waiting in between. And then there's that larger feeling of "waiting," the overriding one that spans all those events -- that vague and hard-to-pinpoint nagging sense of dissatisfaction that most humans carry from cradle to grave. The one that is famously characterized by the song phrase: "Is that all there is?"

In Fumiko Enchi's 1957 novel, The Waiting Years, it's not plainly clear what is being wa
Dioni (Bookie Mee)
First published at:

Continuing my Japanese book strikes, my first book of 2016 is The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi. I read this together with the Japanese Literature book group. It won the most votes out of the 5 books I proposed, and coincidentally it was probably the one I wanted to read the most, so it worked out nicely :).

Just a couple of dozens pages in, I was already surprised how quickly the plot was laid out. Somehow I was expecting it to be a slo
Mar 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
An interesting book, different to my normal read.

The main character is Tomo, the wife of a mid ranking official. The setting is Japan in the early part of the 20th century. A time of rapid change.

Married at 14 and a mother by the age of 15, Tomo is the head of the household whilst her civil servant husband rises through government ranks. He philanders his way through the housemaids, and then decides that a concubine would be fitting for a man of his standing. So he sends his dutiful wife off t
Sana Abdulla
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I finally found and read this novel, it isn't quite a 5 star read but from my reading experience of Japanese literature it is a coherent straight forward narrative, with a controlled feminist outrage.
The story of Tomo, a stoic dutiful wife taking the bucketful of infidelities of her strong willed husband with couth acceptance and keeping her resentment tightly reigned, she is a force to be reckoned with and a character of extreme dignity. She is in fact the orbit of the well maintained household
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
It was strangely difficult to get hold of this book – I preordered a new edition almost two years in advance but finally received a refund, for it fell through somewhere, and finally got hold of a very battered second hand copy with pages dropping out of it. Tides flow in and out and I sometimes try to be patient and read something else when the book I’m pursuing is at an ebb – other times I chase all the harder fearing the object of my desire may slip entirely beyond my grasp if I hesitate. I h ...more
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Written in 1957 – a mere 12 years after the devastation of Tokyo - Fumiko Enchi takes you back to the Meiji era. We are introduced to the household of a government (police) official. His work is not covered, but in the course of this novel he rises and feathers his nest such that when parliamentary reforms take place (i.e. via the liberals he has wanted to jail) Yukitomo Shirikawa has a comfortable retirement.

The work spans perhaps 40 years showing the experience of Tomo Shirikawai, the perfect
I love the The Waiting Years for its subtly creepy, haunting feel and its simple writing style. My heart went out to every woman in the story.

Read it slowly, and then maybe flip through it again. This is a book that should be savored.
Tomo is a wife of a philanderer who has great power in the beginning of the novel. He asks his wife to find him a concubine which is shocking to those who knew of this request. Tomo is hurt that her husband needs another woman, but is glad she can have input into the type of woman she will introduce to her household. This is a sample of the type of decisions she must make for the next 30-40 years. She learns to hold in her emotions as she watches her husband take on a second concubine and a mist ...more
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘Fumiko Enchi has worked on Onnazaka for eight years, which has been translated to English under the title of The Waiting Years. The novelist-critic Takami Jun describes it as “a rare jewel among masterpieces of modern literature”.

The novel reveals how the family system of Meiji Japan (1868-1912) leads to an exploitation of the women and treats various problems which the protagonist Tomo Shirakawa faces. The role of the concubines provides a profound double structure. The novel is a fictional tr
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have wanted to read Fumiko Enchi's 'The Waiting Years' ever since I discovered it last year. I finally got around to reading it today.

Tomo is the wife of a powerful government official. One day her husband tells her that he wants a concubine and asks Tomo to find the right woman who will play that role and who will fit into the household, as Tomo knows her husband and her household best. It is a difficult and painful thing for Tomo, but she does what her husband asks. What happens after that a
What could be more shocking to most wives than their husband requesting that she pick out a mistress for him who will come live with them. And she fulfills the request because if she doesn't, he will pick one out who might be less agreeable to live with from her perspective. Tomo Shirakawa is a tough, long-suffering wife to a wealthy and powerful man. It is humiliating for her to bring home a mistress for him and to watch subsequent mistresses come into their home.

I'm not a person to admire a w
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Waiting Years [1957] by Fumiko Enchi - ★★★★★

I liked The Waiting Years much more than Masks [1958] by the same author. The Waiting Years is a powerful novel by a female author that tells of Mrs. Shirakawa who is forced to seek a maid or rather a young concubine for her husband. Mrs. Shirakawa finally finds strikingly beautiful and innocent girl Suga who is about to be "sacrificed for the sake of her family's fortunes" [Fumiko Enchi, 1957: 34]. After Suga, another girl follows to please the in
Veronika KaoruSaionji
Feb 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Rather depresive and very sad, but strong and very beautiful. Fom first issue in 1957 remains till today very popular novel in Japan. From female author.
Historical novel (from end of 19. century) mainly about two heroines. Tomo is beautiful young woman from poor but noble (samurai) family, wife of wealthy and succesful young and handsome Japanese nobleman (samurai, but of much better origin than her) whom she loves and who married her in her age of 14. Now she is 30 and she has two children, old
Heidi Parton
Jul 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful, haunting novel that addresses the problems of patriarchy in traditional Japanese society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As with Enchi's Masks, the novel starts out a little slow (which is something I've come to appreciate in fiction), but begins to pick up after five or ten pages--not in terms of plot, necessarily, but in character complexity and a dark, slow-sinking sense of foreboding. A lot of the novel's tension comes from the juxtaposition of surface "normal ...more
Jan 01, 2016 rated it liked it
The story of an upper-class family in early Meiji era and its many torments. The plot moves at a blazing pace, covering around 40-50 years in roughly 200 pages. It nonetheless has many characters and they are all well-developed and changing as time goes by.

However I'll admit I didn't really like it. I think the main reason for that is that Enchi focuses on nothing but the negative. It's not that I don't like sad stories, but it lacks contrast. The only positive scene I remember is when the conc
Jay Moran
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As she watched Suga, with the cool skin that harboured an inner light like newly fallen snow and the dewy eyes that were also wide open yet had a misleading troubled look, Tomo would experience two unbidden and conflicting emotions: boundless pity as for a charming animal that was about to be led to the slaughter, and fixed hatred at the thought that eventually this innocent girl might turn into a devil that would devour her husband and sweep unchecked through the whole house.

Despite being short
Raven Haired Girl
May 18, 2015 added it
Shelves: 2015
A dissection of a marriage once filled with love slowly spiraling to loathing. Tomo, a traditional dutiful Japanese wife, faces her husband’s request in accordance with traditional and culture. Tomo a woman respectfully abides tradition, honors her husband with great grace and poise. Intelligence is on Tomo’s side as she ultimately prevails in the end.

Exquisitely written, impeccably detailed Tomo’s story is revealed slowly stirring the reader with affection. A close examination of the unjustness
Jul 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-15, fab-15
This tale is told in a stark, simplistic, matter-of-fact, almost distanced manner that underlines “a certain formality of speech and manner,” “a certain remoteness” in its protagonist. It is a heartbreaking tale of interpersonal and societal tragedy, powerful in its air of unrelieved gloom.
Elizabeth Reuter
Feb 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Books like this are hard to review. I can't say I enjoyed it when reading it was so painful. Then again, it's beautifully written and I'll never forget it.

The Waiting Years is a story about how harmful and ridiculous patriarchy is. Good wife Tomo is driven to an early grave by the agonies placed upon her, but that's what a good wife does, so oh well; husband Yukitomo takes his superiority for granted and never thinks to question it, even as his lechery and cruelty grow out of societal bounds, an
Mandy Tanksley
Fumiko Enchi's tale of a dutiful wife sent over the years to find her replacements a beautifully written and heart-wrenching one. Tomo's husband sends her to retrieve a him a new "maid." Tomo understands that will not be the girl's true duty for she will become his mistress and she won't be the only one. Tomo watches as each new girl comes into her home and takes away a part of her life. As the husband and wife grow further apart, it becomes a tragic tale of a wife scorned. Tomo can no longer st ...more
Jan 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was an fascinating perspective on the intertwined lives of several women in one household in the early Meiji period. Focusing on a wife/mother, two concubines, servants, daughter we see that Enchi weaves a tale that quiet powerfully reflects the women and their roles in a patriarchal society -- which were quiet defined and constrained. At times appalling to the modern reader, one has to take into consideration the fact that this is a novel reflecting a time past but also leads you to wonder ...more
Mar 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
1 May 2015
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See author 円地文子.

Fumiko Enchi was the pen name of the late Japanese Shōwa period playwright and novelist Fumiko Ueda.

The daughter of a linguist, Fumiko learned a lot about French, English, Japanese and Chinese literature through private tutorage.

Fumiko suffered from poor health as a child and spent most of her time at home. She was introduced to literature by her grandmother, who showed her to the

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“Happiness--a small-scale, endearing, harmonious happiness--surely dwelt here beneath the low-powered lamps in the tiny rooms of these houses. A small-scale happiness and a modest harmony: let a man cry out, let him rage, let him howl with grief with all the power of which he was capable, what more than these could he ever hope to gain in this life?” 19 likes
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