Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, July 3, 2017

"The Children" - one of Junichiro Tanazki's early short stories (1911, in translation by Anthony Chambers,)

I am very glad my initial post for Japanese Literature 11 is upon one  of the very first short stories of one of Japan's greatest and most popular writers, Junichiro Tanazaki (1886 to 1965).  I have posted extensively on Tanizaki.  Up until about two months ago I thought I had read all his novels.  However, vintage has just published translations of two more of his novels. The Maids, his last novel, tells the story of The Makioka Sisters (itself a good choice for your first Tanizaki) from the point of view of the maids of each sister, I really want to read this soon.  

Sexual sadism, with the male on the receiving end from a woman is one of the consistent themes of Tanizaki.   Receiving pain and orgasm are tied together in the more than a bit disturbing and strange "The Children".  As it opens a young boy, maybe 14, is on a playground.  A boy his age, from a much wealthier family, invites him, through his yaya (applicable Tagalog word for a household helper dedicated to a child) to a party tomorrow.  He is very thrilled to be invited.  At first the party is more or less the rich family inviting the kids, rich and poor, of the neighborhood to a nice party. Tanizaki describes all the wonderful delicacies served, giving us a look at gourmet dining circa 1911.  The young host then tells the narrator they should retire to a western style house on the estate, getting away from the disgustingly poor children.  Anything western suggests decadence and depravity.  The sister of the host, a year older, will join them.   On the first of several encounters over a period of days, the two boys cover the sister in assorted filth.  As days go on the host begins to subject both his sister and his guest to physical abuse, done in a ritualistic fashion which seems to culminate with them lifting their kimonos followed by him nibbling on their private parts.  Tanazaki is vague on what happens but it appears they are experimenting with the opening stages of oral sex.  As they days progress roles are reversed and the sister becomes dominant.  In one funny interlude the boy's maid walked in on them and let out a scream to stop or she will tell his parents but she never does.  

The activity is quite rough, progressing to knife cuts which the narrator must hide from his mother.

"The Children" is a very interesting story, valuable as a cultural artifact from the start of the career of a great writer, and a thought provoking look at sexual sadism in children.  Ok and it is fun too!  

Incidentally Tanazaki was very much a cat lover and his novella, A Man, A Cat, and Two women is one of the all time great cat books.

I read this story in a new collection of his short fiction, The Gourmet Club and Other Stories, translated by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy, with a very informative introduction.

In the interest of full disclosure The University of Michigan gave me a review copy of this book and an additional new collection.  If they had not, I would have bought them.  These two books are very valuable additions to Japanese literature in translation.  I hope over the course of Japanese Literature 11 (ending January 31, 2018 to post on all nine of the stories in this collection.

Mel u



Bellezza said...

I had no idea there would be so much sexual content, or violence, in this work by Tanizaki. I am familiar with his theme that the West symbolizes decadence, and women dominating at least in a man's obsession with her. Thanks for reviewing this story, which seems rather shocking to me.

Mel u said...

Bellezza. I was taken by surprise also. I think other of the stories are even more so.