05 August 2019

Cat Fights

A Cat, a Man, and Two Women
Jun'ichiro Tanizaki
Kodansha International, 1990, translation by Paul McCarthy
Japanese original "Neko to Shozo to futari no onna", and other stories
164 pages

Mr. Tanizaki is a new author to me, although the end flap biography says that most Japanese readers would name him as the best Japanese writer of the 20th century. Apparently the stories in this small volume are different from his novels, as they are playful and lighthearted.

The book contains 3 stories, a novella called "A Cat, a Man, and Two Women" (1936), and two short stories, "The Little Kingdom" (1918) and "Professor Rado" (1923, 1928). All three were first published in magazines in Japan and went untranslated until this book appeared in 1990.


In "The Cat" story, three female characters are vying for the attentions of the man, Shozo: ex-wife Shinako, current wife Fukuko, and a cat named Lily. Shozo is lazy, spoiled, and self-indulgent. His main passion seems to be for the cat. The two wives and his mother push him around all the time. Shozo just bumbles around and gets into arguments with all three women. They are all working class Japanese, just ordinary people.

Shinako is vindictive; she's been divorced and thrown out so he could marry a younger woman who has a bit of money. That younger woman, Fukuko, is rather flighty and runs home to daddy for days at a time to get more money and spend it. Meanwhile the fight over who gets the cat is sort of a proxy battle for Shozo.

The tone is a gentle comedy, and the author has great sympathy for these common people, and for the cat. The preface by the translator mentions that Tanizaki was a great cat-lover, and the depiction of Lily bears witness to that love. It was a fun story, although the people are rather pathetic in the end.

"The Little Kingdom" concerns a provincial school teacher and his family, suffering from poverty and illness. The main plot revolves around a power struggle between the teacher and one of his young pupils.

"Professor Rado" is a very odd tale about a journalist who pursues a pompous professor named Rado, relentlessly asking him questions to which the main answers are merely grunts. At the end, the journalist uncovers the professor's secret obsessions, which are a bit kinky.

I enjoyed these stories a lot, especially the one about Lily, the cat. It's one of those books I must have read about somewhere online, requested from the library, and then wonder how I ended up with such an odd little book. The power of the book bloggers, I guess!

This is my entry for the Back to the Classics 2019 Challenge, in the Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania category.

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