NAOMI by Junichiro Tanizaki


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Tanizaki's first book to be greeted significantly in Japan, written in 1924. Set in the Twenties, among the urban young in a rage to westernize, the story is about Jogi, 30, an engineer, and the bar girl he meets and tries to Pygmalion-ize, Naomi. Naomi is 16 when he takes her in (after asking the most perfunctory permission from her family, who turn out to be brothel owners in any case). She's strikingly beautiful, looks like--to Jogi's eyes--Mary Pickford. But her rehabilitation from bar girl to proper woman is slow, then impossible. She learns English poorly and would rather go to dances or shop for new kimonos. But Jogi can refuse her nothing: her animality is too strong, always asserting itself in their private erotic idyll--the baths he gives her (during which she calls him ""Daddy""), the pictures he takes of her dressed and undressed, the way they play horsie. It's only when Naomi rubs Jogi's nose in her infidelity (whoredom, actually) that he rebels and chucks her out. But, of course, not for long: the lady is a vamp. Tanizaki's crystalline style, as well as the piquant kinkiness of his characters' sexual obsessions, is just assembling in this early book, especially in a scene late in the story when Jogi shaves Naomi's face (as per Japanese female custom), or when Naomi's choice of what she does or doesn't bare of her body becomes an artful dance of manipulation. Not major Tanizaki--but with all the flavors set out in a row.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1985
Publisher: Knopf