Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki

34462When I heard from TJ that there was a Naomi read-along for the Japanese Literature Challenge at Dolce Bellezza, I couldn’t resist reading a book with my name on it.

Naomi takes place in Japan in the early 1920s. One of the most interesting parts of the book was the Japanese fascination with all things ‘Western’; clothes, attitudes, dancing, and the idea of the “modern girl”. Naomi became obsessed with Westernizing herself, while Joji became obsessed with her.

I would say obsession is what this novel is really about. Joji’s obsession with Naomi became almost unbearable to read about. I cringed and felt humiliated on his behalf. Joji put everything he had, including his dignity and self-worth into Naomi’s demands and requests. As time went on, I felt more and more sorry for this poor guy who has put everything into keeping Naomi happy, and she ends up taking advantage of him over again and again, until he finally just succumbs. Is it even possible to be that obsessed with someone?

7989734… most of her value to me lay in the fact that I’d brought her up myself, that I myself had made her into the woman she was, and that only I knew every part of her body. For me Naomi was the same as a fruit that I’d cultivated myself. I’d labored hard and spared no pains to bring that piece of fruit to its present, magnificent ripeness, and it was only proper that I, the cultivator, should be the one to taste it.

And, Naomi. I could criticize her for her selfishness and her deceit, but I could also ask myself what would it feel like to practically be owned by someone (even if that someone is a nice guy)? At first, she was kind of like his doll who he would bathe and dress in different outfits. She must have felt trapped rather than grateful, and resentful rather than loving. But, boy was she selfish. The clothes, the food, the lessons… all that money.  I don’t know what to think of her. I think it’s safe to say, though, that, although we share a name, we are not very much alike. Maybe I would like to take dance lessons and eat out every night, but besides that (and our perfect beauty), we’re very different. No adult sleepovers for me!

15214453She’d betrayed my expectations for her mind, but her body now surpassed my ideal. Stupid woman, I thought. Hopeless. Unhappily, the more I thought so, the more I found her beauty alluring. This was very unfortunate for me. Gradually I forgot my innocent notion of “training” her: I was the one being dragged along, and by the time I realized what was happening, there was nothing I could do about it.

Naomi was fun to read, but only until I got tired of the cyclic game Naomi and Joji were playing. I started to wonder when and how it was going to end. I also found Joji’s narration almost child-like in its simplicity. I wonder if his other books are written the same way. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.

Review at My Book Strings

Review at Dolce Bellezza

Has anyone else read this or other books by Tanizaki? What other Japanese Literature have you read?

23 thoughts on “Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki

  1. Bellezza says:

    I love your review! You pointed out the effect of Westernization much better than I, in fact it took until I got to reading some of the comments to realize that Tanizaki is criticizing, quite subtly, Western culture. He did a masterful job of not only pointing out a relationship gone awry, but the eway our cultures influence who we are. I quite agree with you that it would have been hard to be Joji, scorned at every turn, but it also would have been a bit difficult to be Naomi and molded to fit his ideals (at least at the beginning). In typical Japanese fashion, this is a novel that appears simplistic, but has much to say underneath it all, and leaves the reader thinking for a long time after turning the last page. So glad you read with me/us! I’m off to put a link to your review on mine.

    • Bellezza says:

      p.s. I have also left a link on the Japanese Literature Challenge 9 review site so others can read your post. I hope this is acceptable to you? Let me know if not, and I’ll remove it.

      p.s.s. I have always loved the name Naomi. 🙂

      • Naomi says:

        Thanks! (for the p.s. and the p.s.s.) It’s kind of too bad, though, that the character Naomi is so unlikable. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad I had a couple of people to read this with. I might not have picked it up, otherwise.
      Just the fact that the story made me cringe and feel uncomfortable shows how effective his writing is. It really was fascinating reading about the way they saw ‘westerners’. They seemed to want to emulate them and scorn them at the same time.
      Thanks for hosting and linking my review!

  2. Don Royster says:

    I went through a period years ago of reading a lot of Japanese literature. Tanizaki’s essay “In Praise of Shadows” is a wonderful introduction to Tanizaki’s, and Japanese, aesthetics. Haven’t read “Naomi” but Tanizaki’s “The Makioka Sisters” may be his best known work. It looks at an upper middle class family’s life during the early war years. The sisters of the title are trying to make a match for one of the sisters. It gives an in-depth look at women’s lives during this period.

    One of my absolutely all-time favorite novels is Kawabata’s The Old Capital, a Japanese novel. Once I read the opening chapter, I was hooked. It is the story of a young woman discovering she has a twin sister. The old capital of the title is Kyoto and much of the novel. The art of the kimono has an important role in the novel.

    Tanizaki is one of the three great Japanese writers of the mid twentieth century. The other two are Kawabata and Mishima. A comparison would be Hemingwary, Fitzgerald and Faulkner who occupy roughly the same time period.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks for the suggestions and the comparisons, Don. It’s so interesting – I wish I had the time to explore it all (for every decade in every country)!

      • Don Royster says:

        Perhaps I should name all my future novels “Naomi” and make the protagonists Naomi Canada. Then you would feel compelled to read them and review them. So my next three novels will be: Naomi, Naomi Again, and Naomi the Great. What do you think?

      • Naomi says:

        Sounds good! I will read them! But, try to make the protagonist a little more likable than the one in Tanizaki’s book. 🙂

  3. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting either, but I loved reading it. There was just enough foreshadowing for the reader to know that things wouldn’t go smoothly. One of the quotes on my book compared this one to Madame Bovary, but I have to say that I disliked Naomi a lot less than Madame Bovary. I found her despicable, but I really wonder how much of her bad behavior was a consequence of Joji’s treatment of her. She seemed decent enough in the beginning, but then she just turned into a spoiled brat, which is usually what happens when someone’s every whim is fulfilled. I found the fact that he couldn’t let go of his obsession the perfect punishment for looking at Naomi as someone he could simply mold into his idea of perfection. (Although I did feel bad for him a little bit…)

    • Naomi says:

      Oh, good point, TJ! It is just punishment. At first, I was quick to dislike Naomi and side with Joji, but then I tried seeing it from Naomi’s point of view. It really is a smart and interesting book.
      Imagine being so obsessed with someone that you would do anything for them, and let them treat you any way they wanted. Naomi was a smart woman, even though that description isn’t what first comes to mind when you think of her.

  4. Cathy746books says:

    I think from a cultural point of view I would enjoy this book. I’m reading Out by Natsuo Kirino at the moment (violent, grisly, feminist!) and plan to read The Housekeeper and The Professor over the summer. I must link up to the challenge!

  5. JacquiWine says:

    I’ve been following the reviews of Naomi and hope to read it myself one day. It sounds as if there are parallels with some of Kawabata’s novels (and I notice his name has come up in the comments). Obsession seems to be a key theme in Japanese literature – it’s certainly there in Kawabata’s work.

  6. Monika (@lovelybookshelf) says:

    Oh wow, what a great review. I really need to read more Japanese literature. I remember seeing the post about the challenge but had too much going on to commit, but I’ll have to remember to go check the links and see what everyone is reading. 🙂 Because you know, my TBR is so slim and all, haha!

  7. parrish lantern says:

    Great post, & I agree with Don’s comment on In Praise Of Shadows & his list of writers but would chuck another name into the pot Shusaku Endo

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