BONCHI by Toyoko Yamasaki

BONCHI

By
Age Range: 1925 - 45
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KIRKUS REVIEW

It might be going a little too far to call Yamasaki the Danielle Steel of Japan--but this long, leisurely tale of family quarrels and geisha-girl romance (the third of her twelve novels) should certainly appeal to some US romance/saga readers, especially those with a taste for details in clothes and customs. Written around 1960, the story is set in Osaka circa 1925-45 and focuses throughout on young Kikuji, heir to the 100-year-old family business: Kawachiya's--wholesale merchants of tabi (foot-coverings). But, while the family's men preside over the merchandise, the family itself is a matriarchy with a vengeance: mother Sei and grandmother Kino--spoiled, vigorous, restless--devote their energy to an obsession with quasi-religious traditions. . . and to all-out meddling. So Kikuji is pushed into marriage with nice Hiroko--who, after providing a baby son, is then driven into divorce by her monstrous in-laws. And weak Kikuji, like his father before him, seeks love outside the stifled domestic scene-among the geishas. (His father dies young, tended by a long-time geisha mistress, who disguises herself as a practical nurse.) Among Kikuji's many, simultaneous paramours: second-generation geisha Ponta, who pluckily endures an inquisition by the matriarchs (""Your menstruation: when did it start?"") but becomes bitter when her baby must be passed over to foster-parents; demure, marriage-minded Ikuko, who dies in childbirth; mysterious O-Fuku, the matriarchs' choice for official mistress (they hope she'll bear a daughter); virgin student-geisha Korin, whom Kikuji deflowers in a delicate ceremony; and non-geisha Hisako--independent, selfish, hooked on horse-racing. Kikuji juggles all these bedmates through the economic woes of the Thirties (the business must move into cheaper wares). And, with the war, there are worries about the safety of each girl--while the matriarchs are devastated by having to move out of the fanatically revered ancestral home. (To everyone's relief, Grandma will commit suicide: a scenic drowning.) Romance readers who are accustomed to a primary heroine may not care for the man-centered viewpoint here. And the episodic, rather stately narration can seem a bit dull. But the crazed matriarchy comes across with zest, the geisha-world details are convincing, and the sex is non--graphic--so fans of old-fashioned pop/romance novels may find this a surprisingly agreeable, respectably written item.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1982
Publisher: Univ. Press of Hawaii