cover image The Maids

The Maids

Junichiro Tanizaki, trans. from the Japanese by Michael P. Cronin. New Directions, $22.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2492-5

In this new translation of the final novel of Tanizaki’s illustrious career, he seeks to personify rapidly changing Japanese culture through a series of portraits of the “many, many maids” who “worked for the Chikura household” between 1937 and 1961. After beginning with the compliant but “high-strung” Hatsu, the eccentric cast grows to include Ume, whose epileptic seizures leave her “frothing at the mouth like a crab,” and Setsu, who is fired for being a lesbian after a neighbor witnesses her engaging in a “dreadful form of writhing” with Sayo, the “weirdly calm and excessively polite” maid she replaced. These scandals are already far from the trouble caused by Hatsu’s earlier habit of inviting delivery men in for sukiyaki, which once fed worries she had “fallen in with a bad crowd.” Gin, who arrives in the ’50s, takes things even further when she begins a love affair with a taxi driver. Even as its subjects approach the contemporary, Tanizaki’s narration, at turns demure and illuminating, serves as a charming reminder of times past. “The girls today can all find better conditions working in offices or factories,” Tanizaki writes, wistfully. “Even if one does come once in a while, she never settles down for long.” (Apr.)