3.5 stars, Book reviews

The Makioka Sisters

by  Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Edward G. Seidensticker (translator)

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Genre: Cultural Fiction (Japan)

Date Published: September 26, 1995


In Osaka in the years immediately before World War II, four aristocratic women try to preserve a way of life that is vanishing. As told by Junichiro Tanizaki, the story of the Makioka sisters forms what is arguably the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century, a poignant yet unsparing portrait of a family–and an entire society–sliding into the abyss of modernity.

Tsuruko, the eldest sister, clings obstinately to the prestige of her family name even as her husband prepares to move their household to Tokyo, where that name means nothing. Sachiko compromises valiantly to secure the future of her younger sisters. The unmarried Yukiko is a hostage to her family’s exacting standards, while the spirited Taeko rebels by flinging herself into scandalous romantic alliances. Filled with vignettes of upper-class Japanese life and capturing both the decorum and the heartache of its protagonist, The Makioka Sisters is a classic of international literature.

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My View: This book is an easy, cozy read. There’s no thrill or drama. The book follows the life of four Japanese sisters in the 1930-40’s and gives a deep purview into how life looked like, then in the country.

You get a glimpse into their lifestyle, their thinking, their day to day struggles and relationship with each other.

If you’re into cultural reads, you would enjoy this. The personality of three sisters shine through while the fourth one remains more into the shadows. They are markedly different from each other and you see it in their beliefs, personalities, and lifestyles they keep. The reserved, tranquil one happy with the littlest of pleasures life has to offer in marked contrast to the rebellious, outgoing one who wants to break free from traditions and live life her way.

We are also made aware of the circumstances catching up on them (the upcoming war), the international friendships they keep, and how the world and society around changes with time.

It is a long albeit interesting immersive read. Just don’t come looking for action or drama, and you will like it.

Have you read the book? What did you think of it?

3.5/5 stars – Between I liked it and I really liked it.

About the Author

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (谷崎 潤一郎) was a Japanese author, and one of the major writers of modern Japanese literature, perhaps the most popular Japanese novelist after Natsume Sōseki.

Some of his works present a rather shocking world of sexuality and destructive erotic obsessions; others, less sensational, subtly portray the dynamics of family life in the context of the rapid changes in 20th-century Japanese society.

Frequently his stories are narrated in the context of a search for cultural identity in which constructions of “the West” and “Japanese tradition” are juxtaposed. The results are complex, ironic, demure, and provocative. 


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