Title: Longing and Other Stories
Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy
Publisher: Columbia University Press ISBN: 978-0231202152
Genre: Translation, World Literature, Short Stories
This is a collection of three stories by Tanizaki, which were published relatively earlier in his career between 1917 and 1921. Maybe that’s why you can as a reader sense the jagged edges, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons this collection is highly satisfying as well. The stories are set in early 20th century, and all focus on the mother-son bond – its complexities and also exploring the subtlety of relationships using different styles, which were also used in his later works.
The book starts with the title story “Longing” – a story that is extremely poetic and possesses a dream-like quality. It seems to read quite simply – that of a young boy walking alone along a dark coastal road, recalling events, in search of something, constantly being played by the light and the darkness, along with eerie shadows and the atmosphere of dread, till it becomes clear what it really is.
Tanizaki’s style is out there for all to see – the playfulness, the sudden revelations, the vague memories of childhood he brings to fore – and in all of this the element of some unreliability which works in a most out of the blue manner, fitting in rather perfectly.
The second story “Sorrows of a Heretic” is about the protagonist Shōzaburo almost wasting away his life – living the life of depravity. In this story, I saw Tokyo being brought to life and seeing it in a point of time that was so different and unique. We don’t feel much for Shōzaburo but there is some feeling of sentimentality. Tanizaki gives his characters that from the readers.
In the final story “The Story of an Unhappy Mother”, the narrator Hiroshi is one of the five children in a family that talks about his family, more so his mother. Tanizaki paints a picture so vivid about the mother – her flaws, her mistakes, and her misgivings. Again, the relationship of the mother and child is told with great nuance and care.
The translations by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy are on-point at almost every single page. Once again, the translators when it comes to a Tanizaki work have managed to communicate the sparseness of prose, the details when required, the elegance of Tanizaki’s descriptions, and in turn highlighting different aspects of Tanizaki’s writing.
“Longing and other stories” is a collection that is wholesome, intriguing, and speaks of lives that are lived on the border of imagination and reality. A must-read collection in my opinion.