|Image Credit : Wikia|
That I am a big fan of Junichiro Tanizaki is no secret. I fell in love with the Makioka Sisters, then read Quicksand, and now the latest is Naomi. Interestingly, Naomi is called Chijin No Ai in Japanese, literally Fool's Love.
And it's a fool's love that prompts Joji, in his twenties, to fall in obsessive love with Naomi, the beginning of a chaotic, passionate and disruptive relationship that takes many forms. I immediately saw shades of Nabokov's Lolita. Joji takes the 15-year-old Naomi under his wings - with a stated desire of making her Westernized, Tanizaki's not-so-veiled criticism of Japan's increasing Westernization in the 1920s. Joji narrates the story, but your sympathies are initially with Naomi - who grows up under his control. She learns English, and Joji tries to make her a lady. But there are aspects to their relationship seem creepy - Joji often bathes her, buys her expensive kimonos, and Joji carries her on his back, pretending to be a pony. In return, Naomi is rarely allowed out of the house, and she develops a slatternly, slovenly appearance, not the lady that Joji aspires her to be. But control can only extend so much. Slowly, but surely Naomi breaks away from the caterpillar's cocoon and dawns wings that threatens Joji's control over her.
What follows is a masterful depiction of an obsessed relationship - Naomi has many lovers - but Joji has only one. And that's where the poignancy of Tanizaki's writing comes in. But the Japanese writer is not a pervasive seeker of just human emotion - he is also at his best, masterfully witty, and there are many scenes he provides just that. And bear in mind that Tanizaki offers one of the most insightful glimpses into 1920s Japan. When you put that in a package, it makes for a very readable novel. Yet, while reading Tanizaki is easy, understanding his many layered themes is not simple. I am sure that the themes of sexual obsession, control, an entire societal change, and the peculiar colors of human relations - all of this need to be explored in greater detail. For a review though, we are impatient readers, and I an impatient blogger as well, ;-), so suffice to say that Naomi is interesting, provocative, and well, for fans of Tanizaki a must read.
Verdict : Provocative story that has shades of Lolita