Junichiro Tanizaki's Naomi is both a hilarious story of one man's obsession and a brilliant reckoning of a nation's cultural confusion. nbsp; When twenty-eight-year-old Joji first lays eyes upon the teenage waitress Naomi, he is instantly smitten by her exotic, almost Western appearance. Determined to transform her into the perfect wife and to whisk her away from the seamy underbelly of post-World War I Tokyo, Joji adopts and ultimately marries Naomi, paying for English and music lessons that promise to mold her into his ideal companion. But as she grows older, Joji discovers that Naomi is far from the naïve girl of his fantasies. And, in Tanizaki's masterpiece of lurid obsession, passion quickly descends into comically helpless masochism.
Naomi, also known as "A Fool's Love", was initially published in serial form in 1924, and was highly controversial at that time, due to its depiction of Naomi's promiscuity and nontraditional behaviors. As a result, it was not published as a novel until the end of World War II. It has remained in print since its release in 1947, and it remains one of the best selling Japanese novels of the 20th century, both within and outside of the country.
The subject of the novel is a 15 year old girl from a dodgy family who works as a café hostess in 1920s Tokyo. One of her customers is the 28 year old Joji, the narrator of the story, an electrical engineer who describes himself as a country bumpkin, awkward but attractive to most women. Joji respects the traditions of Japanese culture, but dislikes the intricacies of courtship and marriage. He wishes to live with a woman who is beautiful by Western standards and modern, one who can speak English fluently and has an intelligent, analytical mind.
Joji is enraptured by Naomi, with her Western name, Eurasian features and free spirit, and she agrees to live with him as his "maid", while he pays for her classes in English and Western music. He seeks to mold her in the fashion of his ideal wife, but Naomi becomes an indifferent pupil, as she develops a taste for fine clothes, restaurants and the company of young men. The two fall in love, and "marry" the following year. However, as Naomi flowers into womanhood, she becomes more manipulative and brazen, as she realizes the power she holds over Joji and other men who desire her. Joji's life spirals out of control, as he spends every spare dollar meeting her increasing demands, and takes more time off from work to follow the movements of his promiscuous wife. Eventually he throws her out, but he quickly realizes that he cannot live without her.
Naomi is an important novel about the conflict between traditional Japanese and Western values in 1920s Japan, as it reflects the changes in Japanese society before World War II and in the author. Tanizaki is believed to have based the subject of his novel on his Westernized sister-in-law, with whom he was enamored; he found his first wife to be too traditional and restrained. It is a straightforward and enjoyable read, although this reader frequently wished to give Joji a spine transplant.
this is a story about a bored japanese businessman who struck up a fancy with an innocent (haahaaaaa) japanese cafe girl....became obsessed with her and put on her his obsession with the "western ideal"
i will not give away the end.....
But Naomi isn't all that she appears to be and gradually Joji realizes the depth of her manipulation but is ensnared by his own obsession.
The story also contains lots of east vs, west, old, vs. new dynamics of emerging changes to Japanese society and culture, which my review admittedly ignores. Separate and apart from the historical context, however, "Naomi" reads more like a comedy than a tragedy. We witness Naomi's natural growth (but with no self-awareness) into a fun-loving adult who offers little added value beyond her proven (albeit difficult to fathom) competence in bringing men to their knees. Joji, on the other hand, naturally smart though he is, demonstrates a pathetic absence of personal growth and discernment based on massively faulty premises and his absymal inability for critical thinking and self-reflection.
"Naomi" was a vivid portrayal of what and how not to be. It reminded me of the movie "Leaving Las Vegas".