Last month I read and posted on The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi. This work, eight years in the writing was a very insightful look at the state of marriage in Japan in the second half of the 19th century among upper class families. We saw how women seemed on the surface powerless and we witness the many changes and transformations in an arranged marriage while the wife waits for her husband to die. Enchi is an acute observer of very small details. We see a woman internalize her anger and shame as social requirements dictate her increasingly successful husband take a series of concubines.
Fumiko Enchi (1905 to 1986-Tokyo) was the daughter of a famous scholar of classical Japanese literature. She acknowledged as one of her strongest literary influence the work of Junichiro Tanizaki which I did see. During a bombing raid in WWII the house of her and her husband was destroyed along with all their possessions. She was educated at home by tutors and at 13 was reading Oscar Wilde, Edgar Alan Poe, and classical Japanese literature. She was very much into the reading life.
Masks is about cruelty between an older very cultured woman in her 50s and her widowed daughter-in- law. The daughter- in- law, who seems to be portrayed as what we would now see as a mildly learning impaired person, is a virtual slave to her mother- in- law. The daughter- in-law is very attractive and has two suitors. The mother in law manipulates these relationships for her own amusement. She basically causes the daughter to become pregnant by a brutish man who cares nothing for her and by so doing insures she can never marry again. Some of the great charm of this book is the combining of the story line with the older woman's interest in and great knowledge of No masks. We see what is under the seemingly inert older woman just as we begin to understand the masks a bit. There are also woven within the work many references to classical Japanese literature. Looking deeper into this I think Masks and The Waiting Years are about the aspects of Japanese culture that were, I mean no offense here, a slave society. There is no freedom in these books other than perhaps the freedom to be casually cruel. Of course this is just one aspect of the work of Enchi but to me it seems part of her deeper focus. Much of Japanese literature is about various forms of enslavement. There is deep wisdom in this short book. I endorse it without reservation.