Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, March 3, 2024

Bhallin' with Books: 'The Makioka Sisters'

"The Makioka Sisters" (19431948) by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki follows four aristocratic women in Osaka throughout the years preceding World War II. It is truly a wonderful read. The Makioka family is upper-middle class. However, the wealth that they once enjoyed in their father’s prime has been in decline along with the aristocratic way of life. Decline is a central part of Tanizaki’s novel; you journey through each character’s attempt to fight and cope with decline. 

The reader meets the family when it has already fallen far from its wealthy past, but it has not yet dealt with the immense pride that its years of wealth gave it. In turn, the Makioka’s pride causes the central conflict of finding a husband for the third sister, Yukiko. Maneuvering these proposals is a family affair, complicating the other sisters’ relationships in the process. 

The language is beautiful even through its translation; there are nuances that do not translate as well, but not all is lost. There is still so much within every chapter and every sentence. It is a magical recollection. 

Each of the four Makioka sisters has a distinct role and personality which draws you into their lives and the everyday happenings of each. You live with this family for five years, from 1936–1941. You get to know the sisters intimately and find places in your heart for each of them to live. 

The novel was serialized from 1943–1948. Serial novels are texts that are released in smaller installments over a longer period of time — usually in magazines — like how we watch TV shows today. 

I love the idea of serialized novels, but I have noticed the difference in how they work as one singular book after serialization. Charles Dickens is often credited with growing the serial novel’s popularity, and when you read some of his texts, you can see how writing it over such a long period of time changes the novel as a whole. The text is more episodic

"The Makioka Sisters" has similar elements and also smaller climaxes throughout the book instead of the rising action contributing to a central climax. The episodic nature allows you to palpably feel the rhythm of their lives. 

The gorgeousness of the decaying culture seeps into every scene of the book. You see the hypocrisy, the stifling gender and hierarchical roles that each character is forced into despite what might actually be good for that person. Yet, you also are able to feel the stunning essence of their dancing, the rituals that encompass every bit of inherent elegance and tradition.  

Unfortunately, I didn’t read this entire work in the past week (I did start my book for next week, but midterms got the best of me this week). Even though it is over 500 pages, I devoured it this summer. Don’t let the page count scare you away, as so often happens these days. Start on the first page, and soon enough you’ll find yourself forgetting that there are pages at all. 

And when you get to the end, you’ll find the most hilarious final line. I’ll let you read it for yourself, but it is truly epic, confusing, but somehow fitting.