THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE LORD OF MUSASHI and ARROWROOT by Junichiro Tanizaki
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THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE LORD OF MUSASHI and ARROWROOT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Not grand vintage Tanizaki, like The Makioka Sisters or Some Prefer Nettles, these two newly translated short novels from the early Thirties are nonetheless lovely works: both are modeled after Stendhal's Italian Chronicles, and both deal with the peculiarly Japanese transformation of obsession into mini-tradition. The Secret History tells the ""real story"" behind a neatened-up chapter in traditional Confucian history. A young warrior of the 16th Century, Terukatsu, gets all fired-up as a boy upon seeing ladies-in-waiting preparing and combing enemy samurai heads--which are severed and taken in battle. The heads without noses (""woman-heads"") particularly excite him; he's inspired to take such a head of his own at the first possible chance. As it happens, however, he gets only a nose. Yet this, later on, will prove to be a passport into the affections of Lady Kikyo, the daughter of the general whose nose Terukatsu cut off! Furthermore, Lady K. is now the wife of a lord whom she'd like to see with a similar Terukatsu nose job. And all this bizarre material--meetings within the lady's toilet, the gradually disappearing face of the lord-husband, Terukatsu's nose-o-philia--is daubed in by Tanizaki with only the driest, most mocking strokes. . . until it comes to seem like anti-history. Arrowroot, done in a slightly different, essayistic style, is the story of an excursion to a mountainous district near Kyoto. The narrator is looking for material for a novel. His companion is admittedly after more--his past: his dead mother hailed from these high villages, from a family of papermakers. . . but all he has to go on is an old letter. Elusive, pale, pure, this tale is semi-circular--it seems to rock itself forward. And, taken together, these two very different novels provide a good introduction to Tanizaki's special brilliance: his grace, his antic flair, his off-handed richness.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1982
Publisher: Knopf