Classics · Drama · Fiction

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

What is it about?

The Makioka Sisters chronicles the lives of four middle-aged Japanese sisters from 1936 to 1941 as their fine, almost aristocratic lifestyle, gets washed away with the oncoming World War and the Second Sino-Japanese War. The sisters are all very different in personality, and this often leads to clashes throughout the course of the novel: Tsuruko, the oldest sister and mistress of the family’s main house in Tokyo, is insipid and motherly; Sachiko, the second eldest and mistress of the Osaka house where most of the story takes place (she could be considered the main character), is kind and emotional; Yukiko, the third eldest, is modest and traditional; the youngest sister, Taeko, also called Koi-san, is selfish and rebellious – she could even perhaps be considered the antagonist of the novel, if not quite the villain. Whilst the backbone of the story is the endless search for a husband for Yukiko, there are various other story arks going on too, from natural disasters to international warfare to sordid love affairs, all leaving the sisters stronger and closer than before.

Is it any good?

This is a meaty spiderweb of a book that really got me tangled! As cliche as it sounds, I honestly couldn’t put this book down; every time I told myself I would stop at the end of a chapter, I found myself reading on to discover the solution to a cliffhanger. All of the characters are coherent and well developed, and their changes throughout the story are believable and well-written. Similarly, the way events unfold is well done, especially the way Tanizaki shows the decline of the Makioka family; it’s not like they’re suddenly poor – he shows us in quiet and subtle ways that their wealth is drying up, such as through what kind of train ticket one of the sisters buys. Admittedly, at times, the story was a little bit hard to follow, especially with such a large cast of characters, and I often found myself wanting to give Yukiko a good shaking. Nobody wants to marry you? What a surprise when you sit there with a face like a slapped arse. But I suppose it’s a mark of a good book that it could make me feel so strongly. Overall, it is a lovely story of family bonds, especially the unbreakable ties of sisterhood.

Rating: 9/10

How long did it take to read: seven days

For fans of: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the works of Tan Twan Eng, stories of sisterly love, Japanese culture

This book tastes like: a high quality pot noodle


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