Judith by Noel Streatfeild

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I loved Streatfeild’s “shoes” books for many years. We had a copy of Ballet Shoes and it was a book I reread many times (and still reread today). We also had Apple Bough (known as Traveling Shoes), Curtain Up (also known as Theatre Shoes), White Boots (also known as Skating Shoes). My favourite was always Ballet Shoes though!

While Streatfeild has written other books, I had not ventured past those books I had grown up with.

But once again, a reading challenge has pushed me to reading different things. This year I am hoping to do much better when it comes to the Back to the Classics challenge. One of the challenges was to read a “new-to-you classic by a favorite author”, and so who better to read than Noel Streatfeild?

The appeal of her books was typically that it was comforting yet also quaint. The families all tend to have problems with money and their parents tend to be a bit vague, so a Nana-like guardian figure always manages to wrangle things and keep the household together. But there’s always talent. Whether it be for ballet or ice-skating or dancing or acting.

So it was with these themes in mind that I started reading Judith. And aha, there’s the absent father, the vague mother who in this case is particularly cold and ignores her child. Judith is pretty much a child emotionally abandoned by her mother. She so longs for Mother’s attention which never happens, and which brings Judith and her governess Miss Simpson (or Simpsy as Judith calls her) together. The three of them seem to travel around Europe quite a bit, apparently because “Mother hated many things, amongst them cold weather, seeing the same dreary faces too often, publishers’ cocktail parties, and “your Father’s family.””

So the kind guardian figure in this book is Miss Simpson. She’s respectable and trustworthy (important characteristics for Mother) but also loving and kind towards her charge. In her own way, she takes the sting out of Mother’s criticism of Judith, rephrasing Mother’s orders in a nicer way, such as Judith’s being sent out for a walk as being indoors won’t give Judith a nice complexion.

Mother’s family looks down on Judith’s father’s family. Her father lives in the US with his new wife (there is a divorced couple in a Streatfeild book!). But the big news is that he will be in England for his sister Charlotte’s wedding. And Judith is to be a bridesmaid.

“Judith collected kind words and kind looks dropped by Mother. As she grew older she exaggerated these looks and words and on them built day-dreams.”

Essentially, Judith is about a young girl (we first meet her at age 12) who’s constantly let down by her family. Because of her circumstances, she doesn’t know how to interact with children of her age, like her cousins when she finally meets them. And what makes it worse is that the adults often use her as entertainment, due to her talent for imitating people.

And the thing is, she is not a likeable character. She is meant to be pitied. She’s clingy and needy and naive. So this wasn’t exactly the delightful Streatfeild read I was expecting. It didn’t leave me with that warm-hearted feeling of her children’s books. But well, I shouldn’t have been expecting a children’s book type read, should I?

In terms of a read, this wasn’t exactly the easiest, because although parts of it were amusing, there were few characters that were likeable or charming. And you desperately want someone to just be there for her (there are some glimmers of hope). I’m looking forward to reading more of Streafeild’s books as there are quite a few that are available as ebooks from my library. Now that I’ve had a taste of her non-Shoes books, I feel like I’m better suited to try more.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

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It is interesting to read this book today. A book I have heard about, had a relative idea of its plot, read of the many times it was banned, including an attempt in 2000 at one California high school (one parent was quoted as saying: “It teaches how very easy it is to smother somebody…I don’t want to put these kinds of images in children’s minds. They’re going to think that when they get mad at their parents, they can just ax them out.” (This makes me wonder what kind of TV shows they watch in their household.)

In 2013, it was banned from production by an Alaskan theatre company for a different reason – because it’s racist and misogynistic.

So why did I read this book this year? Partly because of Nurse Ratched, the Netflix TV series. I happened to watch the first episode the other day and thought, ok I better read the original book first! And also, a comment from Jen at Introverted Reader on my blog post about Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings. She mentioned The Combine in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, similar to how the characters in Earthlings talk about The Factory.

Kesey worked as a night aide on a psychiatric ward in the Menlo Park Veteran’s Hospital and it was his experiences as well as his experience with drug use (he was in an Army-sponsored hallucinogenic drug experiment) resulted in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s funny to read of how Menlo Park and Palo Alto used to be places where experiments in LSD and other psychedelic drugs were carried out – not exactly the image that I associate with it at all today.

First off, I’m going to admit that this is not really a review. Just some random thoughts as I was reading this book. It’s incredibly hard to review a book that plenty of people have read – and some, even thoroughly studied. But well, since this is for a reading challenge, some thoughts must be put down, and a blog post to be uploaded. So here it is.

I’ve not seen the movie version yet (but I guess I ought to now that I’ve read the book), but I definitely had Jack Nicholson’s image in my head when reading about McMurphy, the trickster, the rebel, the one who champions the underdog. Yet while he’s meant to be seen as the tragic hero, he’s also the guy who decided to go to the psych ward instead of serving a prison sentence.

I constantly felt uncomfortable reading this. It was controversial for its time but it still makes for an uncomfortable edgy read even today. It’s full of themes such as individuality and power through the constant struggle between Nurse Ratched who’s trying to maintain the status quo and McMurphy who keeps trying to break it. But I kept wondering why it is a woman who is the tyrant, the cold heartless character. The doctor (of course, a man) is on the other hand, easily manipulated by McMurphy. Also, I kept pronouncing her name (in my head, that is) as “wretched”. The other women characters (except for another nurse I think) are prostitutes…

“What she dreams of there in the centre of those wires is a world of precision efficiency and tidiness like a pocket watch with a glass back, a place where the schedule is unbreakable and all the patients who aren’t Outside, obedient under her beam, are wheelchair Chronics with catheter tubes run direct from every pantleg to the sewer under the floor.”

Then there’s Chief Bromden, a large Native American who pretends to be deaf and mute. And how it wasn’t just that he started acting that way, but that people started acting like he was “too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all”. It’s a clever tactic, using this narrator (although reading it today makes me go ‘ugh’ about a white man writing the part of a Native American), as he is always in the hallways sweeping, and since everyone presumes he’s deaf and mute, they talk freely around him. Also, I’m never quite certain if what he’s talking about is a hallucination or real life. With regards to minority characters, I’m frustrated with the use of “boys” when it comes to the Black men who work at the ward. The patients are referred to as “men” though.

I don’t know how to sum up my feelings about this book. I’m glad I read it, for at least now I know more about it. It was an uneasy read not just in terms of what feelings it’s supposed to churn up (down with the man! for one thing) but it was also a book full of stereotyped minorities, as well as women who are either there to be used or to belittle the men of the ward.

The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katherine Green

This is one of those free classics on the Kindle store that I found and I hadn’t heard of the author before so off I went to google her. It turns out that Green was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America, apparently popularizing the genre some years before Sherlock Holmes even.

Her most famous novel is The Leavenworth Case which is the first book in the Mr Gryce series

The Forsaken Inn isn’t a detective story though it is a sort of locked-room mystery set in an New York inn in the 1700s. Told from the perspective of the inn owner, the story begins with a couple spending a night at the inn. The man’s rather creepy and has a huge box with him. The couple spends the night (the innkeeper feels uncomfortable) and they leave the next day.

“I became conscious of a great uneasiness. This was the more strange in that there seemed to be no especial cause for it. They had left my house in apparently better spirits than they had entered it, and there was no longer any reason why I should concern myself about them. And yet I did concern myself, and came into the house and into the room they had just vacated, with feelings so unusual that I was astonished at myself, and not a little provoked. I had a vague feeling that the woman who had just left was somehow different from the one I had seen the night before.”

Some years later, a hidden room is discovered at the inn. And in it, there is the body of the woman and she has an engraved wedding ring. But didn’t she leave with her husband all those years ago?

Some interesting twists, but a somewhat roundabout manner of narration and a wordy way more suited to readers of 1890 meant that my eyes glazed over a bit occasionally but I ended up finishing this less than usual classic.

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge – Classic by a Female Author

2019 Reading Challenges

I love starting reading challenges but I never finish them, except for those that run for just a few months in a year. Hoping for better accountability next year, so I’m putting them in a permanent post, whether it’s a blog or Litsy challenge. Here goes!

The Reading Women podcast #readingwomenchallenge (get the pdf here)

Mystery/Thriller by WOC
Woman w mental illness
Author fr Nigeria or NZ
About or set in Appalachia
Children’s book
Multi-gen family saga
Featuring a woman in science
Myth retelling
Novella
Woman athlete
YA Books by WOC
Lambda Literary Award winner
Translated book pub before 1945
A play
Written by South Asian author
By indigenous woman
From 2018 Reading Women Award shortlist
Romance or love story
About nature – The Lotus Garden by Li Ang
Historical fiction
Book bought/borrowed in 2019 – Mary B by Katherine J Chen
Book you got because of cover
Any book from a series
Book featuring a religion other than your own
Book by Jesmyn Ward
Book by Jhumpa Lahiri – The Clothing of Books

#Booked2019 – a Litsy reading challenge

Female detective
Fairy tale retelling
Reminds you of your happy place – The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Related to a podcast
Set in Ireland or Irish author
new to you author – Mary B by Katherine J Chen
night-oriented title
cli-fi
Indigenous author
features a musician
social media focus
food or beverage on cover
genrebusting
Muslim author or MC
book to movie
comic
book gifted to you
diverse middle grade
book about addiction
soldiers story
new in 2019
poc MC paranormal
public domain
political intrigue

The monthly motif reading challenge hosted by Girlxoxo

JANUARY – New to You Author

Mary B by Katherine J Chen

Read a book by an author whose writing you’ve never read before.

FEBRUARY – Cover Love

Yes. We’re giving you permission to judge a book by its cover and read a book with a cover that really caught your eye.

MARCH – Royalty, Kingdoms, Empires, Governments

Read a book in which the character is involved in a ruling or governing body in some way.

APRIL – Crack the Case

Read a mystery, detective story, true crime, cozy mystery, or book involving a puzzle to solve.

MAY – One Sitting Reads

Read something that is short enough you could get through it in one sitting- try a graphic novel, comic book, short story, essay, or short collection of poetry.

JUNE – Diversify Your Reading

Read a book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own or read about a culture you want to learn more about.

JULY – Through The Years

Read a book involving time travel, a book with a ‘time’ setting such as The Great Gatsby (20s), read a historical fiction/nonfiction, or choose a book published in your birth year.

AUGUST – Mode of Transportation

Read a book where the mode of transportation plays a role in the story (ex. Murder on the Orient Express or The Boys in the Boat)

SEPTEMBER – Animal, Number, Color, Name

One of those things needs to be in the title of the book you choose (ex. Water for Elephants, Red Queen, Fahrenheit 451, Rebecca, Harry Potter)

OCTOBER – Tricks and Trades

Read a book set in a theater, an amusement park, a circus, or a book involving magic, illusions, or characters with special powers.

NOVEMBER – Seasons, Elements, and Weather

Embrace a winter wonderland setting, pick a beach read, or read about a natural disaster. As long as a season, element, or the weather plays a key role in the story or is part of the title, it counts. (ex. Little Fires Everywhere, The Snow Child, On The Island)

DECEMBER – Last Chance

Finally read that one book that you’ve been meaning to get to all year long.

Back to the Classics hosted by Books and Chocolate

All books must have been written at least 50 years ago to qualify; therefore, books must have been published no later than 1969 for this challenge.

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.
2. 20th Century Classic – No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym
 
3. Classic by a Female Author The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katherine Green
 
4. Classic in Translation. 
5. Classic Comedy. 
6. Classic Tragedy.
7. Very Long Classic. 
8. Classic Novella. 
9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean) – Lonely Londoners
10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). – Snow Country
11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong
12. Classic Play – Death of a Salesman

Back to the Classics 2018

I am horrible when it comes to finishing challenges. I am really good at starting them and I am truly awesome at coming up with reading lists 😀. But finishing them? Not really.

Every year-end I wonder if I should join challenges in the new year but the truth is, I cannot resist them! So here I am again, joining the Back to the Classics challenge hosted by Books and Chocolate.

This year, I’ve decided to try as much as possible to read books by women authors.

1. A 19th century classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.

Adam Bede – George Eliot (1859)

2. A 20th century classicany book published between 1900 and 1968. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles (1943)

3. A classic by a woman author.

The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)

4. A classic in translation.

The Innocent Libertine by Colette (1909)

5. A children’s classic.

The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit (1907)

An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott (1869-1870)

6. A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction.

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay (1935)

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green (1878)

7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction

A Voyage in the Sunbeam by Anna Brassey (1878)

8. A classic with a single-word title.

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1907)

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë (1849)

9. A classic with a color in the title.

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë (1847)

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer (1921)

10. A classic by an author that’s new to you.

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton (1958)

11. A classic that scares you.
The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (990s to 1000s)

12. Re-read a favorite classic

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (1908)

Back to the Classics: The Dollmaker

 

I hadn’t heard of this book until last year when I was trying to find classics that would fit the Back to the Classics challenge. And I’m curious now – is this a book that is familiar to you? Was it taught in school?

After reading it, I thought, this is a great American classic with a terrible title.

It doesn’t help that when I googled “The Dollmaker” this comes up.

 

 

Some kind of Marvel villain. Apparently the name ‘Dollmaker’ has been claimed by a variety of villains. Because it really has unpleasant connotations, doesn’t it.

Of course Harriette Arnow wrote this book in far more innocent times – it was first published in 1954.

The dollmaker in question is Gertie Nevels, a woman of the Kentucky hills. Gertie is strong, both physically and mentally. She is a woman of the mountain, comfortable with her life there, harsh though it may be. One of her particular skills is whittling – she works wonders with wood and is skilled at carving dolls. She is proud of the life she has made there with her family. But it is soon to be all for naught as her husband Clovis goes to Detroit to work in the factories and the family is expected to follow suit.

“Six-thirty to seven-thirty was pure dark still, like the middle of the night. It was a lonesome in-between time when her hands remembered the warm feel of a cow’s teats or the hardness of a churn handle, or better beyond all things – the taste of spring water, the smell of good air, clean air, earth under her feet.”

Gertie is a fish out of water in the big city. And really, life there is hardly any better than in Kentucky. The house is tiny and it is freezing cold. The schools are run down. The family gets called ‘hillbillies’ a lot and everyone has some kind of an opinion about them and how they need to adapt to life in the city. And all the horrors of modern city life such as surviving on credit, strikes, and being able to hear your neighbours through the thin walls.

 

Mrs. Whittle bit her freshly lipsticked lips. “The trouble is,” she went on, “you don’t want to adjust – and Rueben doesn’t either.”
“That’s part way right,” Gertie said, moving past her to the stairs. “But he can’t hep the way he’s made. It’s a lot more trouble to roll out steel – an make it like you want it – than it is biscuit dough.”

The dialect was a little tricky at first, and it took me a couple of tries to get into the book. It is rather full of despair – the poverty, the struggle to get used to their new lives, the longing Gertie has to return to her hills and to work the fields.

It amazes me that a book like this, one of misery and wretchedness, can be so compelling to read.

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I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 – A 20th Century Classic

Back to the Classics: A Raisin in the Sun

 

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Don’t laugh, but for the longest time, I thought this play/musical had to do with erm, farming. I’d heard of it, but have never seen the play or the musical or the film.

It takes its name from this Langston Hughes poem.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes, Harlem (Dream Deferred)

What an amazing poem.

A Raisin in the Sun is a story about a black family living in Chicago’s South Side – Walter and his wife Ruth, their son Travis, Walter’s mother and sister Beneatha all live together in a small rundown apartment.

“Weariness has, in fact, won in this room. Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often. All pretenses but living itself have long since vanished from the very atmosphere of this room.”

Walter’s father has recently died, and they’re waiting for a life insurance cheque of $10,000. Walter plans to invest that in a liquor store with some acquaintances. But his mother puts most of it into a new house – one in an all-white neighbourhood. Unfortunately their soon-to-be new neighbours want none of that, and a representative arrives offering to buy them out. This man who asks the family:

“What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted and where some elements – well – people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they’ve ever worked for is threatened.”

The plot echoes Hansberry’s own experience. When she was 8, her father Carl Hansberry bought a house in a subdivision restricted to whites, and their neighbours got an injunction to have them vacate the house. Carl Hansberry challenged the ruling, bringing about the case Hansberry vs Lee.

This play set many precedents. After difficulty securing funding, a location, the play opened on March 11, 1959, and A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, with a black director, and a black cast (except for one minor character), including Sidney Poitier. What a feat for that time, when theatergoers were mostly white. According to a 1999 New York Times article, Hansberry once told a reporter that Broadway’s perception of black people involved ”cardboard characters, cute dialect bits, or hip-swinging musicals from exotic scores.”

A Raisin in the Sun ended up playing for 19 months on Broadway. Hansberry won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play, and the 1973 musical was adapted from the play. It really was a play that made history.

As James Baldwin said in his introduction to Hansberry’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black, published after her death:

“…I had never in my life seen so many black people in the theater. And the reason was that never before, in the entire history of the American theater, had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage. Black people ignored the theater because the theater had always ignored them.”

A true American classic.

 

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Sadly, Hansberry died young – at age 34 of pancreatic cancer.

  • A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  • A Raisin in the Sun, screenplay (1961)
  • “On Summer” (essay) (1960)
  • The Drinking Gourd (1960)
  • What Use Are Flowers? (written c. 1962)
  • The Arrival of Mr. Todog – parody of Waiting for Godot
  • The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality (1964)
  • The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1965)
  • To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words (1969)
  • Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays / by Lorraine Hansberry. Edited by Robert Nemiroff (1994)
  • Toussaint 

 

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I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

– A classic by a woman author. 

Back to the Classics 2017

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Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting the Back to the Classics challenge again. I didn’t do so great at this year’s but I’m going to give it a try again! All the details are here!

Here are the 12 categories and to note:

  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1967 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.

Here are some books I may read. I’m giving myself a few choices just in case….!

1.  A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.

Cousin Phyllis – Elizabeth Gaskell (1864)

Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë (1847)

2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1967.

Raising Demons – Shirley Jackson (1957)

The Dollmaker – Harriette Simpson Arnow (1954)

3.  A classic by a woman author.

Read: A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry

This Crooked Way – Elizabeth Spencer (1952)

A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry (1959)

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).

Seven Years in Tibet – Heinrich Harrer (1952)

Chess Story – Stefan Zweig (1941) 

Children of the Alley – Naguib Mahfouz, Peter Theroux (Translator) (1959)

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

The Monk – Matthew Lewis (1796)

The Castle of Otranto –  Horace Walpole (1764)

6.  An romance classic. I’m pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

Katherine – Anya Seton

Winthrop Women – Anya Seton

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads.

Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin (1967)

Whatever happened to Baby Jane? – Henry Farrell (1960)


8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, The Nine Tailors, Henry V, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

Three Guineas – Virginia Woolf (1938)

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (1939)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey (1962)

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc.

The Tiger in the Smoke –  Margery Allingham (1952)

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Horace McCoy (1935)

The Call of the Wild – Jack London (1902)

10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

Hawaii – James A Michener (1959)

My Side of the Mountain – Jean Craighead George (1959)

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

Strawberry Girl – Lois Lenski (Newberry award 1946)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Newberry award 1959)

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author.

Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak (1957)

(I secretly avoid Russian classics so hopefully I can get through this one. Also I have to ask, are there Russian classics written by women?)

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

First things first, autocorrect keeps changing the title to the “Manioca” sisters. So just in case you see that, please ignore it.

Now that that’s out of the way, I have to say that The Makioka Sisters is one of the most lovely things I’ve read in a long time. That is, if one can put it out of one’s mind that life in Japan in the late 1930s and early 1940s was not a fantastic time for women. This was my first Junichiro Tanizaki book and I was rather surprised at how well he wrote these women. It is odd especially as Tanizaki has a reputation for writing about characters with erotic obsessions and desires.

 

I may have read this book sooner if anyone had told me that it was a sort of Japanese version of Pride and Prejudice. Well it is, sort of, and it also isn’t.

 

The Makiokas were an old family, of course, and probably everyone in Osaka had heard of them at one time or another. But still – Sachiko would have to forgive her for saying so – they could not live on their old glory forever.

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There are four Makioka sisters. The older two, Tsuruko and Sachiko, are married and have their own families. Yukiko and Taeko (also known as Koi-San or ‘small daughter’, a common endearment in Osaka).

Yukiko is to be married off, if anyone will have her. The family has already scared off several suitors, for a variety of reasons. The Makioka family’s wealth is a mere shadow of what it used to be, but still they hold their heads high and hold out for the best. Until matchmakers begin to avoid making matches. It doesn’t help that her younger sister was involved in a bit of a scandal and a minor tabloid printed this affair (must have been a slow news day), but mistook Yukiko for Taeko.

Unfortunately Yukiko is extremely soft-spoken and rather pale and frail-looking, to such a point that one potential suitor even asks for medical tests to be done, to prove that she is of good health.

“It was reasonable enough for such a well-behaved man to insist on an elegant, refined girl, but for some reason – maybe as a reaction from his visit to Paris – he insisted further that he would only have a pure Japanese beauty – gentle, quiet, graceful, able to wear Japanese clothes.”

Poor Yukiko. She’s quiet among strangers so although she’s actually a really interesting person and quite modern in her tastes, liking for instance, Western music, she is overshadowed by her more colourful older sister Sachiko and her vivacious younger sister Taeko. It’s so bad that Sachiko is often asked to tone down her dress, dress older, or perhaps not show up at all, to meetings with prospective husbands. As an introvert, I feel for Yukiko. I so want her to be happy. I want her to be less meek and speak up but she never really does. She is quite a traditional, conservative Japanese woman, letting her older sisters and their husbands determine who her future husband is to be, never seeking the independent life that her younger sister has.

It was fascinating to learn just how traditional Osaka society at the time was. Taeko, being the youngest, could not marry until Yukiko was married. As the youngest, she also wasn’t supposed to eat before her older siblings did, had to sit at a certain place at the table and so on. And to learn that Tokyo life and culture is so different and even a bit strange to the three younger Makiokas, whose society remains largely confined to Osaka, although they venture to nearby Kobe for meals and shows.

The Makioka Sisters was serialized from 1943 to 1948 and was originally titled Sasameyuki (細雪) in Japanese, which means lightly falling snow. The “yuki” character or “snow” being the same character in Yukiko’s name, showing her central importance in the story. As suitor after suitor is no longer, well, suitable, one cannot help but feel worried for her, as she is certainly not the kind of woman who can survive on her own. 

Oh how I loved this quiet, regal story. It is gentle in its depiction of Japanese traditions vs the inevitable creeping modernization and westernization of society, the Makioka sisters representative of the old families, struggling to hold on to the last vestiges of their good name. It is a beautiful story, one that has taken me far too long to read and write about, as I couldn’t bear to leave the Makiokas’ world.

 

 

 

Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) – works published in English 

  • Some Prefer Nettles, tr. Edward Seidensticker,
  • The Makioka Sisters, tr. Edward Seidensticker
  • The Key and Diary of a Mad Old Man, tr. Howard Hibbert
  • Seven Japanese Tales, tr. Howard Hibbett
  • In Praise of Shadows, tr. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker
  • Naomi, tr. Anthony H. Chambers
  • Childhood Years: A Memoir, tr. Paul McCarthy
  • A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, tr. Paul McCarthy
  • The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot, tr. Anthony H. Chambers
  • Quicksand, tr. Howard Hibbett
  • The Reed Cutter and Captain Shigemoto’s Mother, tr. Anthony H. Chambers
  • The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, tr. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy
  • Red Roofs and Other Stories, tr. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy,

 

 

makiokadvd

The Makioka Sisters was made into a film in 1983. Have you seen it? What did you think of it? It does look so very pretty!

BackToTheClassics2016

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 –

A classic by a non-white author

diversity

Also for the Diversity on the Shelf challenge 

On rereading a childhood favourite

misshappiness

This was the cover of the copy I had as a kid

 

There’s something both exciting and daunting about reading a childhood favourite after many many years.

It’s exciting to be brought back to one’s childhood again. To see this book with adult eyes.

And that’s exactly what makes it a bit daunting. What if it doesn’t live up to your glorified expectations? To that highest of high esteem that you have held it to all these years? And what, just what would happen, if you realize that this book that you’ve idolised, that you’ve been in love with all these years, is just not really the book that you thought it was.

happiness

This is the latest version from MacMillan

So it was with great relief that I finished Rumer Godden’s Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. And it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered it to be.

Nona, 8, a quiet shy girl, has just moved from India to stay with her cousins in England. She’s sad and lonely and doesn’t know how to adapt to her new life with her far more boisterous cousins Anne, 14, Tom, 11, and Belinda,”a rough tough little girl of seven”.

One day a parcel arrives from America, from their Great Aunt Lucy Dickinson, and inside are two Japanese dolls, named Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Nona feels for the dolls who also have travelled a great distance and are far from home. With the encouragement of her older cousins and her aunt and uncle, she decides to make them a house, a doll’s house, a proper Japanese doll’s house. And as her plans begin to take shape, Nona herself blossoms and emerges from her shell, and more importantly, begins to make a home for herself in England.

One thing that always stood out for me was the way books and reading were given great significance in this book. Like when Nona, who was “always reading”, discovered that books could also teach her about making things like a doll’s house.

 

“I didn’t know you could learn to carpenter out of books.’

‘You can learn anything out of books,’ said Tom.

‘A book like this?’

Tom nodded.

‘Oh!’, said Nona. She stood by him a moment longer and then said, ‘Thank you, Tom.’

And her first solo outing that she dares to brave is to the village bookshop, run by the gruff old Mr Twilfit, whom Anne calls “an absolute old dragon”, although Nona learns that he can be sweet and gentle, especially to girls who wash their hands before handling his books. She eventually tells him about the dolls and her plans to make a Japanese house. And he asks a wonderful question.

“Can you read?” he rapped out.

“Of course,” said Nona.

“Really read?”

That was one thing Nona was quite sure she could do, and she nodded.

 

Ah, the power and the magic of books. Nona begins to read and read and learn all about Japanese culture, Japanese houses, furniture, flowers, and more. She does need Tom’s help to build the house itself though, and Mr Twilfit plays a part in that.

I always wondered if Godden was inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, the story of the girl who returns to England from India. But I only recently realized that Godden herself lived in India for many years as a child, then returned to England for school, and was brought back again to India when the First World War broke out. Back again to England to finally finish school, then as an adult, back to India where she lived for some 20 years before moving back to England.

Rumer Godden’s daughter said her mother wrote children’s books between novels, “as she said it was a very good discipline as you must never write down to children or use too much description”.

And I think she hit the right notes with this book – and even provides some basic blueprints in case the reader wants to make her own doll house.

 

BackToTheClassics2016

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 and Read My Own Damn Books

 

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