This collection of stories is distinguished by its lightheartedness and comic realism.
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Jun'ichiro Tanizaki was born in central Tokyo in 1886. After becoming an overnight celebrity with his literary debut in 1910, he produced a steady stream of novels, short stories, essays, plays, poetry, and translations for the next fifty-five years. His versatility is further demonstrated by the film scenarios he wrote for a Yokohama studio in 1920-21. The 1923 Tokyo earthquake forced him to move to the Kansai region, where he chose to remain for most of the rest of his life. Trips to Korea and China in 1918 and to Shanghai in 1926 were his only overseas experiences. By 1948, when he completed The Makioka Sisters, he was widely considered the preeminent Japanese novelist. In 1949 he received the Order of Culture, the highest honor the emperor can bestow on an artist.
He married three times; his third wife, Matsuko, shared the last thirty years of his life. Even in his seventies he was still startling readers with audacious fiction like The Key and Diary of a Mad Old Man, and a year before his death in Atami in 1965 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the first Japanese to be so honored.
Translations of his work began to appear as early as 1917, and by now his novels have been published in at least twenty different languages. Donald Keene's assessment appears to be coming true: "It is likely that if any one writer of the period will stand the test of time and be accepted as a figure of world stature, it will be Tanizaki."
Paul McCarthy, Professor of Comparative Cultures at Surugadai University, has translated Tanizaki's "The Little Kingdom," "Professor Rado," Childhood Years, and The Gourmet Club. His translation of A Cat, a Man, and Two Women won the Japan-America Friendship Commission Prize. He has also translated Takeshi Umehara's Lotus and Other Tales of Medieval Japan and Zenno Ishigami's Disciples of the Buddha.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
[The following excerpt is from the novella "A Cat, a Man, and Two Women."]
Picking up a fish with his chopsticks, he held it high in the air. Lily had been standing on her hind legs with her forepaws resting on the edge of the oval dining table and staring, motionless, at the fish lying on the plate in front of her master. She looked like a customer propping himself up against a bar somewhere, or like one of the gargoyles gazing down from the spires of Notre Dame. When the piece was lifted from the plate, Lily's nostrils began to quiver and her large, intelligent eyes grew quite round, as if with human amazement, as she gazed up at the longed-for morsel.
But Shozo was not inclined to give in so easily. "Heeere it goes!" he teased, dangling the fish right in front of Lily's nose before suddenly snatching it away and popping it into his own mouth. Then he noisily slurped away at the dressing that covered the mackerel, crunched through the brittle bones, and began the whole process again with the next piece. Bringing it close, then withdrawing it to a distance, raising it, then lowering it, he tantalized the cat. Lifting her paws from the table and bringing them up high on either side of her chest in ghostly fashion, Lily began to pursue the fish, tottering after it on her hind legs. If the prey was brought to a standstill just over her head, the cat would fix it intently with her eyes and then make a leap for it, darting out with her front paws to seize it. She would just fail to get it, fall back, then leap again. It took her five or ten minutes of such frantic activity to secure one mackerel.
Shozo repeated the same thing over and over again. He would give her a fish, then himself a little drink, and calling "Lily" would raise the next prize high. There must originally have been some twelve or thirteen mackerel on Shozo's plate, each about two inches long, of which he himself had actually eaten perhaps three or four. For the rest, he had simply sucked out a bit of the vinegar dressing before giving the flesh to Lily.
"Ohh-ohh ... owww! That hurts!" Shozo let out a shriek.
Lily had leapt onto his shoulders and dug in her claws.
"Get down! Get down from there!"
It was past the middle of September, and the last traces of summer heat were fading away; but Shozo, who, like most fat people, disliked the heat and was prone to sweating, had brought a low table out to the edge of the back veranda, now muddy from a recent flood. He sat on top of it, wearing only linen half-drawers, a short-sleeved undershirt, and a woolen stomach-band. The shoulders Lily had jumped onto were fleshy and round like little hills; and to keep from sliding off she naturally had to use her claws. As they dug through the thin cotton undershirt and bit into Shozo's flesh, he gave another cry of pain.
"Get down from there, you--" he shouted, shrugging his shoulders violently and leaning to one side to encourage her to leap off. But the cat, determined to maintain her perch, just dug her claws in deeper until Shozo's undershirt began to be dappled with spots of blood.
Yet, though he grumbled about her "wildness," he could never bring himself to be really angry with her. Lily seemed to be fully aware of this as she gently rubbed her face against his cheek with little flattering noises and, if she saw that his mouth was full of fish, boldly brought her own right up to her master's. If Shozo interrupted his chewing to poke out a piece of fish with his tongue, Lily would nimbly dart her head forward to seize the morsel. Occasionally she would devour it all at once; at other times, she would lick the remnants from around Shozo's mouth, carefully and complacently. There were even times when cat and master would contend for the same piece, each tugging at one end. Then Shozo would put on an angry act, complete with grunts and cries, frowns, grimaces, and a little spitting. Actually, though, he seemed to be enjoying himself just as much as Lily was.
Resting a bit from these exhausting games, he casually held out his sake cup for a refill. "Hey, what's wrong?" Suddenly anxious, he looked up at his wife, who had been in a sunny mood until just a while ago but was now fixing him with a steady gaze, her hands thrust into her sleeves instead of offering the expected drink.
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