Junichirō Tanizaki’s Naomi was first published as a newspaper serial in 1924. Young, progressive readers loved the novel; however, censors and conservative readers were much less enthusiastic about the “obscene and risqué story,” and after 87 installments, the newspaper was forced to stop printing the story. (It was taken up 5 months later by a different publisher.) While there were a few scenes that made me slightly uncomfortable, today’s reader won’t find much obscene or risqué behavior here. It is much more telling that the original title of the book translates into A Fool’s Love. There is much foolishness here, but it is nevertheless a very engaging story.
Naomi is a girl with “a distinctly Western look.” She has a Western name and resembles the actress Mary Pickford. She works in a café, is quiet and docile, and enjoys going to the theatre. She is 15 years old when Jōji sees her for the first time.
Jōji, the narrator of the story, is a well-educated man in his late twenties. He comes from a wealthy family that lives in the country, but he wishes to break with tradition. He decides to take Naomi under his wing, educate her, and raise her according to his desires. He wants to mold her into the perfect “modern girl” of 1920s Japan, which can be loosely compared to the American flapper of the same time period.
It is obvious early on that this is a problematic setup, destined for friction. In the beginning, Jōji is dominating the relationship. He takes great pleasure in watching and grooming Naomi. He revels in her Westernization and fulfills her every wish. Eventually, he marries her. But very slowly, as his obsession with Naomi grows, the tables turn. As Naomi realizes her power over the opposite sex, she becomes a master manipulator. The book ends with her complete control over Jōji’s life.
“If you think that my account is foolish, please go ahead and laugh. If you think that there’s a moral in it, then please let it serve as a lesson. For myself, it makes no difference what you think of me; I’m in love with Naomi.”
For the reader, it is easy to see what’s coming, especially since Naomi is not a likable character. But for Jōji, the “fool in love,” it takes time to realize that his idea of a Westernized, independent wife has had unintended consequences. The slow role reversal, told in a slightly sarcastic tone, is fascinating to read about.
Review at Dolce Bellezza.
Review at Consumed by Ink.