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By Junichiro Tanizaki
Available from Vintage
Kaname and Misako are considering divorce. Misako has already taken a lover. Misako's father believes they are too attracted to being modern and reminds Kaname of the pleasures of tradition. TANIZAKI Junichiro's novel richly evokes 1920s Japan as well as the struggles of marriage.
SOME PREFER NETTLES is a quiet work. Things are said subtly, ironically, or not stated at all. It sometimes makes the novel hard to approach. But while it may seem too esoteric, it reinforces the domesticity of the setting. It's a very nice translation too, which keeps the language beautiful instead of ridiculous.
Generational conflict is universal. But rarely does culture change so rapidly as when Japan westernized. Kaname and his wife listen to jazz. Kaname and his father-in-law go to the bunraku theatre. The old versus new conflict is expressed by a culture few Americans are familiar with. I feel like Tanizaki does a good job of explaining the various arts in the novel, so that those who have no idea what bunraku is can still enjoy the story.
A textbook like MUSIC IN JAPAN: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture by Bonnie C. Wade is a helpful companion to the novel. The Global Music Series from Oxford University Press is wonderful. The text is straightforward, there are plenty of pictures, and a CD containing at least an hour of music. (You'll know it's getting to you when you start listening to gagaku for fun. However, speaking of the conflict between old and new, Tsugaru shamisen is where it's at.)
I enjoyed SOME PREFER NETTLES, although I'm sure by enjoyment was influenced by my interest in Japanese music and performing arts. But I think people truly enjoy Tanizaki's novel due to the rich emotions. While SOME PREFER NETTLES is quiet, it's never spare. It's full of lush imagery and harsh dilemmas.