Saturday, May 12, 2007

Naomi (thoughts)

I read Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki as my tenth, and final, Reading Across Borders selection. It's been called the Japanese Lolita, and while I can understand that, it was a completely different style of book.

If you've read Lolita, you know that Nabokov seduces the reader. He brings you to a disturbing place: understanding. As a twenty-year-old, heterosexual girl, I suddenly found myself emphathizing with Humphrey. I saw Lolita as a sexual object, and although it's difficult to admit, part of me was quite aroused by Humphrey's descriptions. To me, this was the real power of Nabokov: he brings the reader past judgement, past ethics, past identity, until the reader *is* Humphrey. It's deeply unsettling; I have yet to be able to make myself reread Lolita. I doubt I ever will.

In Naomi, Tanizaki portrays a leachourous old man, but he maintains distance. The reader always has space to judge. The plot is simple: an older man decides to "adopt" Naomi (which is an actual Japanese name-I didn't know that) and raise her into his perfect companion. He molds her into a fetishized, Westernized young woman who has always used sex to get her way. The rest of the book is about her fall from grace in the narrator's eyes.

The strength of Naomi lies in the characters, which are all interesting, and more importantly in the message. The narrator goes from referring to Naomi as a "young pet" to a "whore." Obliviously, he blathers on about his troubles in life. Meanwhile, the reader see the obvious: if she has become a whore, it's because you've made her that way. Tanizaki deftly illustrates (some) men's double-standards regarding women and their behavior. Of course, while the narrator is harshly judging Naomi, the reader is harshly judging the narrator.

This novel impressed me. I wasn't expecting everything that I got: the story has a richness and a flow to it that marks the very best tales. At the same time, it doesn't reach Lolita's dizzying heights. So, don't be scared off of picking up Naomi if Lolita disturbed you; that's not what this book is about.

Favorite Passages

For the modern beauty, an intelligent, quick-witted expression and attitude are more important that lovely features. (51)

I believe that when Antony was conquered by Cleopatra, it happened this way: little by little he was stripped of his resistance and ensnared. (54)

She was no longer chaste: not only did this thought cast a dark shadow over my heart; it also lowered the value of Naomi, who'd been my treasure, by more than half. This is because most of her value to me lay in the fact that I'd brought her up myself, that I myself had made her into the woman she was, and that only I knew every part of her body. For me, Naomi was the same as a fruit that I'd cultivated myself. I'd labored hard and spared no pains to bring that piece of fruit to its present, magnificent ripeness, and it was only proper that I, the cultivator, should be the one to taste it. (161)

"The woman has a mysterious, magical power, hasn't she? (198)


Bybee said...

I'm reminded a little of Memoirs of a Geisha. It seemed like the Chairman was grooming Sayuri.

Victoria said...

Eva, not sure if you've noticed yet, but Em from Snowbooks has left a comment for you at Alexandria offering you a copy of 'The Needle in the Blood' if you're still interested. It went something like this:

'Hi Eva - it's Emma from Snowbooks here. I will gladly post a copy to you if you email me with your postal address - it's And for other US readers, we hope that Needle will be available in the US in Spring 2008. In the meantime, do get in touch if you can't wait that long!'


acquisitionist said...

Wow thanks for the review - I'd never heard of Naomi . I love Lolita for its word play, but a Japanese Lolita subject wise sounds intriguing.