Masks by Fumiko Enchi tr. Juliet Winters Carpenter #WITMonth

MasksA mysterious novella that begins in a quiet humble way as we meet the young widow Yasuko whose husband, the only son of Meiko Togano, we learn died tragically in an avalanche.

Yasuko has stayed close to her mother-in-law who in the early chapters seems like a peripheral character, however as the story ventures further, it is suspected that she may be manipulating events and that this is not the first time in her life she has done so.

“A woman’s love is quick to turn into a passion for revenge – an obsession that becomes an endless river of blood, flowing on from generation to generation”

Yasuko is ready to move on with her life and the two men who are in love with her become part of a triangle of deception, where the motives take some time to become clear.

Mieko is a poet and an essay she wrote called ‘The Shrine in the Fields‘, resurfaces, intriguing the two men. The shrine is a reference to a location in the Japanese classic The Tale of Genji that is mentioned in connection with tone of the characters in that novel the Rokujo lady.

“She has a peculiar power to move events in whatever direction she pleases, while she stays motionless. She’s like a quiet mountain lake whose waters are rushing beneath the surface toward a waterfall. She’s like the face on a No mask, wrapped in her own secret.”

Tale of GenjiIt is worth knowing a little about the plot of The Tale of Genji and the ‘Masks of Noh’ from the dramatic plays, as we realise there are likely to be references and connections to what is unfolding here. And not surprising given Fumiko Enchi translated this 1,000+ page novel into modern Japanese.

It may be that Masks, is an allegory to one or more chapters of The Tale of Genji, and in particular in relation to the story of the Rokujo lady, something that made me remember reading Sjon’s The Whispering Muse which did a similar thing with the Greek poet, Apollonius of Rhodes, and his epic poem The Argonautica.

Masks is an enchanting read, that begins as a straightforward narrative and becomes an intriguing multi-layered tapestry of long held deceptions and narcissistic conspiracies that will haunt the lives of these characters.

An intriguing, thought-provoking read, that expands our horizons, introducing us as it does, to classic works and theatre from the long Japanese literary culture.

Fumiko EnchiFumiko Enchi was a Tokyo born novelist and playright, the daughter of a distinguished philologist and linguist. Poorly as a child, she was home-schooled in English, French and Chinese literature by private tutors.

Her paternal grandmother introduced her to the Japanese classics such as The Tale of Genji, as well as gesaku novels,  kabuki and bunraku theatre. Her  adolescent reading included the works of Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, Kyōka Izumi, Nagai Kafū, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and especially Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, whose sado-masochistic aestheticism particularly fascinated her.

Much of her work explores female psychology and sexuality, while three of her works have been influenced by The Tales of Genji, – Masks, The Waiting Years and The Tale of An Enchantress.

Buy a Copy of Masks via Book Depository (Affiliate Link)


7 thoughts on “Masks by Fumiko Enchi tr. Juliet Winters Carpenter #WITMonth

  1. I do like the sounds of this one, Claire. It reminds me a little of Kawabata’s novellas, especially your commentary on the triangle of deception. There’s something inherently Japanese about this style of literature, a gentle exterior that hides the passion within. Great review as ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting what you say about Japanese style Jacqui, this is my second foray into Japanese literature the first being Yoko Ogawa and it was really interesting to read of all the different influences and cultural references connected to this author, which highlight a rich culture I know little about, but which indicate such depth beneath the surface of what we read.


  2. I love this book. It is mysterious and clever and it gets deeper and more layered the more that you read. Enchi is a fantastic writer. If you haven’t read it, The Waiting Years is well worth a read. Great review. Genji is also worth reading, if you haven’t yet, though it is extraordinarily long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d love to read tat one too, in fact all three that are mentioned relating to The Tale of Genji sound good, of course I’ll have to read that sometime too! Save it for a summer chunkster read, but on an e-reader for sure!


  3. Wonderful review, Claire! Loved the way Fumiko Enchi has weaved her story with The Tale of Genji. I got The Tale of Genji years back during a time I was buying chunksters, but because of its size, I kept it aside for later reading. I took it out sometime back and read around a hundred pages. Then I got distracted and couldn’t continue. I was thinking a few days back of picking it up again and continuing from where I left off. So I am so happy to read about it in your review 🙂 It has inspired me to pick it up again. Thank you 🙂 I can’t wait to try Enchi’s book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember when you were reading The Tale of Genji Vishy, I think that is when I became aware of it. I enjoyed researching the plot outline and themes of it while reading this excellent and intriguing novella, I was happy to find an analysis of it rather than having to read a 1000+ page reference. One day I’ll read it perhaps. A summer chunkster for the future and also a couple more novellas by Enchi, she’s an interesting writer and scholar.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: August is Women in Translation #WITMonth – Word by Word

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s