cover image The Reed Cutter and Captain Shigemoto's Mother: Two Novellas

The Reed Cutter and Captain Shigemoto's Mother: Two Novellas

Jun'ichiro Tanizaki. Knopf Publishing Group, $22 (180pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42010-1

These charming but brittle novellas highlight Tanizaki's fascination with courtly Japanese history. ``The Reed Cutter,'' originally published in 1932, is narrated by a contemporary traveller who finds a peaceful sandbar on which to meditate about ancient poetry and courtesans. The narrator is joined by an Osaka antiques dealer, who relates the story of a strange love triangle involving his father, his father's wife and her sister, the aristocratic and lovely Miss Oyu. In ``Captain Shigemoto's Mother'' (1949-50), a craven, high-ranking 10th-century diplomat steals away the young wife of his septuagenarian uncle, separating her from her four-year-old son. Tanizaki describes this peculiar event in compelling detail, then explains how it affected the principal players' subsequent lives, closing with the moving reconciliation of the adult Captain Shigemoto and his elderly mother. The stories are learned and oddly pleasing, although obscure references and occasionally precious writing (perhaps the fault is in the translation) will limit their appeal. (Feb.)