I picked up The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi a while ago from a table in Waterstone's stacked high with "Books in Translation". I was bound to fall for it and thoughtful of them to save me the trouble of searching them out. Books in translation are my finest source of the unusual off piste reading that I love to discover.
Born in Tokyo in 1905, the daughter of a well known Japanese literary scholar,Fumiko Enchi took 8 years to write this book which eventually won Japan's top literary prize.
The book traces the lives of an upper-class family the Shirakawas and in particular the life of Tomo wife of Yukitomo Shirakawa who is trying to hold the family together.
In many ways this book read as I might have expected a Japanese book to read, all based on my traditional and pre-conceived, stereo-typical assumptions about Japanese life. That gentle measured pace, tea ceremonies, hushed tones all quietly gliding along with a smattering of cherry blossoms and chapter titles like The Moon of the Twenty-sixth Night and that's exactly what happened for a while.Then you realize that all this belies the powerful content of this book, an astute and in many ways tragic dissection of the attitudes and customs of a patriarchal Japanese way of life on the brink of change.
Is it the reading in translation that seems to keep you at an emotional arm's length? Or is this the style of Japanese literature of this era? I'm uncertain because I haven't read much before,nor can I judge how good this translation is, but I do sense that here is a way of writing and alluding to traumatic situations that seems to spare you the agony, but still offers great depths and layers of insight into how tragic it all is.
Somehow it is in this book's degree of understatement that the power lies.
I need to read more from this country's novelists before I can decide and then, when I've done that, I suppose there will be nothing for it but Haruki Murakami and Norwegian Wood.