An unnerving portrait of women caught in a web of shifting relationships within an upper-class family in the years following the Meiji Restoration.
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Fumiko Enchi, the daughter of a famous scholar of the Japanese language, was born in Tokyo in 1905. Without completing her studies at the Girls' High School of the Japan Women's University, she left to study drama. Her first play, Banshun Soya, performed at the Tsukiji Little Theater, was a success. At twenty-five she married a journalist, but after the unhappy war period, when all her property was destroyed, she determined to concentrate entirely on writing in order to escape the oppression of domestic life. A short story published in 1952, Himojii Tsukihi, was acclaimed by the critics and won the coveted Women Writers Prize. With illness and the psychological stresses of middle age, her writing took on an acute realism which set it apart from the subdued tones of traditional Japanese writing. On the publication in 1957 of The Waiting Years--a novel she took eight years to write--she won Japan's highest literary award, the Noma Prize, and is now a member of the Art Academy.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"To call the girl a concubine would be making too much of it," he had said to Tomo. "She'll be a maid for you, too... It's a good idea, surely, to have a young woman with a pleasant disposition about the house so that you can train her to look after things for you when you're out calling. That's why I don't want to lower the tone of the household by bringing in a geisha or some other woman of that type. I trust you, and I leave everything to you, so use your good sense to find a young--as far as possible inexperienced--girl. Here, use this for your expenses."
He had set before her an astonishingly large sum of money.
Until then she had managed by pretending not to hear what others said, but there was no avoiding the issue now that Shirakawa himself had broached it with her. Should she refuse to accept the task it was almost certain that her husband would simply introduce into the family a woman chosen without consulting her. His leaving the choice to her was a sign of his trust, of the importance he attached, for the family's sake, to her position. A sense of this odd trust that was reposed in her had been there all the while, heavy in her heart, as she, with Yoshi and Etsuko, who felt nothing but joy at this chance to see the capital, sat swaying in the rickshaws that had brought them all the way to the Kusumis' house in far-off Tokyo.
"I quite understand," said Kin. "There's a woman I'm friendly with who keeps a notion store and often acts as a go-between in this kind of thing, so I'll ask her right away."
Kin carried things forward on a businesslike basis, skillfully avoiding any direct reference to the private heaviness of Tomo's heart. Born into a family that had been official rice agents in Kuramae where the Shogun had his warehouses, Kin was well acquainted with the manners of the wealthier merchants and samurai of the old feudal era and was not in the least shocked by the idea that a man who had got on in the world should keep a concubine or even two. As she saw things, the jealousy of a wife in such a situation would be modified by a natural pride in such a sign of the family's increasing prosperity.
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