(Reviewed by Mary Whipple MAY 1, 2006)
"My husband wants me to go away on a trip with him. Isn't that precious? But why would I want to go with him? It won't be any fun!"
Written in 1965 by Nobuo Kojima, the author of more than thirty books, Embracing Family is the first of Kojima's novels to be translated into English. Set in Japan during the American Occupation after World War II, it is the story of a troubled marriage, the two parties no longer communicating on any level.
Shunsuke, a formal man who never says or does anything that pleases his wife, travels a great deal, giving lectures on "the American way of life" to audiences of housewives. His own wife, a vain, self-indulgent woman who is more interested in her appearance, plastic surgery, and an expensive home than in her children or her husband, mocks him in public.
It gives away nothing to reveal that Shunsuke has had numerous relationships while on the road, a common and accepted behavior for businessmen, but when Shunsuke discovers that Tokiko has had an affair with a young American serviceman, he is appalled that she has insulted him by violating traditional values and her role as a woman. Determined to save the marriage to protect his son and daughter, Shunsuke embarks on a clumsy but sincere effort to initiate communication and reclaim his family life.
Written for a Japanese audience, the novel makes cultural assumptions that may surprise American readers unfamiliar with the Japanese culture of forty years ago, when the novel was published. In addition, American influences, and the emphasis on personal freedom, are seen as detrimental to this marriage and threatening to all aspects of traditional culture. Tokiko is rude and confrontational and, in refusing to take any responsibility at all, fails to be a positive example of traditional roles and culture, at the same time that she has no understanding of American independence. She is simply selfish. Ultimately, the fate of the family depends on the development of the characters' personal values and on their inner growth.
The author exhibits a remarkable frankness about some issues but is restrained, by western standards, in revealing deep feelings, making the novel challenging for western readers. The ending, which feels abrupt, is appropriate thematically though a bit weak dramatically. Symbolism is obvious in context and requires no explanation--a dream that the children are being executed, the contamination of some pickled plums, a ghost. A rare glimpse of Japanese culture at a specific point in history, this novel explores the same subject matter as Junichiro Tanizaki's 1929 novel, Some Prefer Nettles, which, while more subtle and elegant, is less naturalistic.
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- In the Train (1948
- The Rifle (1952)
- The American School (1954)
- Embracing Family (1965; 2005 in U.S.)
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- Wikipedia page for Nobuo Kojima
- Village Voice review of Embracing Family
- Time Asia review of Embracing Family
- Complete Review on Embracing Family
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About the Author:
Nobuo Kojima was born in 1915 in central Japan, north of Nagoya. He is one of the most significant voices in post WWII Japanese literature. He is the author of more than thirty volumes of fiction‚ essays‚ and criticism.
His collection of short stories, AMERIKAN SUKURU, received the Akutagawa Prize in 1955. Kojima was awarded the Tanizaki Junichiro Literary Prize for HOYO KAZOKU in 1966. His three-volume biographical essays on modern Japanese writers, WATASHI NO SAKKA HYODEN, earned the Minister of Education Prize for Literature and Art.
A Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, Kojima spent one year in the United States. In addition to his own writing, he has translated the works of William Saroyan and J. D. Salinger‚ among others‚ into his native Japanese. Embracing Family is his first book translated into English.