cover image In Black and White

In Black and White

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, trans. from the Japanese by Phyllis I. Lyons. Columbia Univ., $20 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-0-231-18519-6

In this never-before-translated novel by the late Tanizaki (The Makioda Sisters), fiction and reality become confused in the mind of a paranoid writer named Mizuno. After his acquaintance Cojima’s name winds up in Mizuno’s latest story, an existential mystery called “To the Point of Murder,” Mizuno becomes haunted by the certainty that he is being followed by a mysterious Shadow Man and that he will be blamed in the event of Cojima’s death. Desperate to create an alibi, he ventures into the Tokyo underworld and becomes indentured to a manipulative German prostitute he calls Fraulein Hindenberg. More metafictional strangeness ensues, as Mizuno struggles to complete the second part of the story while losing touch with reality and running afoul of editors, critics, detectives, and a wife he barely remembers, while the Shadow Man lurks ever nearer. Written as a serial “newspaper novel,” this is a fascinating view of the writer’s mind and of the evolution of a literary genius in a rare experimental mode, as Tanizaki (1886–1965) mingled noir and the fantastic long before Haruki Murakami made his name using the same formula. While marred by an abrupt ending and the choppy structure of a serial novel, Tanizaki’s voice remains intact, making for a flawed masterpiece. (Jan.)