The Waiting Years: An Impression

Borrowed from J. Gossen

I don't really love coming on here and writing "reviews" for books that are technically classics. Because, I mean, who am I? I know I'm not qualified to do that. So rather, I'm writing an impression. The Waiting Years is considered a classic in Japan, which is what makes it unique to what I - as an English speaking American - would consider classic literature. So technically, it wouldn't even fall into what we call the "Western Cannon."
Lately I've been on the hunt for one of two things: proper Japanese curry and English translated Japanese fiction. Japanese restaurants in my town are a dime a dozen, but they're entirely sushi restaurants (do people not realize that they eat more than just sushi in Japan? Probably not.) and exactly one restaurant serves Japanese style curry. Alas, it's pretty expensive. And as for Japanese fiction, well I'm working on it. If anyone can recommend something written by someone other than Haruki Murakami & Kazuo Ishiguro I'd be happy to hear them. (Nothing against them, it's just that I'm certain that there are more than 2 Japanese authors out there, just as I'm certain they eat more than sushi)

The Waiting Years isn't just a Japanese classic, but a Feminist classic as well. I think the major thing I'd like to point out before I begin is that I would have benefited from reading it in a college class - though it's little it's mighty. I know there's a lot I didn't understand that I might grasp a few years from now if I ever decide to reread it. Also, I just realized a lot of people reading this are probably students, and even after I say that I'm not qualified to have any lengthy, academic discussions about this novel, there's still a good chance that someone is going to use this as help for writing a paper. Meep! I am not worthy! But all this chatter aside, I'll do my best not to let you (and your grades) down.

The Waiting Years took Fumiko Enchi eight years to write, beginning during the American occupation. This is significant because at the time, women's roles in Japan were changing radically both legally and socially. Fumiko Enchi's story is a family history taking place during a huge societal shift as Japan was in the process of modernizing.
The story, told over the course of forty years, centers around a housewife of an aristocratic man. Initially, he sends her (Tomo) out to search for a concubine for him, and she eventually brings back a quiet,15-year-old Suga under the pretense that she will act as the family's maid. Suga captures not only the heart of Yukitomo, the husband, but becomes friends with their young daughter Etsuko.
Tomo suppresses her feelings and her hurt early on. In fact, it's very rare that she ever voices her emotions. Because of Tomo's role in society, she made many sacrifices on behalf of her husband. She raises Suga as part of the family, claiming responsibility for her as if she were her own daughter. Later, Yukitomo takes on a new concubine named Yuri. Yuri and Suga become close friends. Beautifully, there isn't any of the cattiness in this household that I would have expected. But after a decade or so, Yuri leaves the house and marries, leaving Suga behind. Suga, unfortunately, will never be able to marry and have children herself because she is barren - likely due to the fact that Yukitomo took her as a lover at such a young age. A third mistress enters the scene, but this time it is genuinely scandalous as Yukitomo has a long affair with his son's wife.
While it does a great job of exploring the lives of women at the time who have little real power but emotional power, it's still very vague and short. Perhaps I'd need at least a master's in Japanese feminist literature to fully understand it. But somehow it's reminiscent of some of my favorites: Du Maurier's Rebecca, Chopin's The Awakening, The Brontë Sister's, and Grau's The House on Coliseum Street.

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