Book review: The Wild Geese

The Wild Geese

The Wild Geese
by Ogai Mori
Translated from the Japanese
by 
Sanford Goldstein 
and 
Kingo Ochiai 

Tuttle Publishing
12/15/1989
First published as 雁
in September 1911
128 pages
Literary Fiction

Goodreads

Buy the book on my Bookshop

I’m starting the Japanese Literature Challenge 15 with The Wild Geese, by Ogai Mori.
Why? Simply because one day or another, I added it to my TBR. And to choose the twelve books I wanted to read for this year’s challenge, I just sorted my Goodreads Japanese shelf by chronological order. The Wild Geese was my oldest title.

I didn’t know Ogai Mori, and I found the introduction by Kingo Ochiai excellent and very useful in that respect. Mori’s contacts with the West are fascinating, as well as all his efforts to introduce Western literature to Japan.

I liked the style of the writing, especially with some beautiful nature descriptions.

As the old man looked out of his low window, he could see though the branches of the parasol pine in his front garden the string-like willow trees faintly moving in the fresh breeze. Beyond them the lotus leaves covered the pond, their green color spotted here and there with light pink flowers blooming at that early hour.
Chapter 11

The plot is simple: Young Otama is forced by poverty to become a moneylender’s mistress. A neighborhood student, Okada, notices her beauty.

Historically speaking, the relationship women and men was an eye opener on the period at stake. The author specifies the story took place in 1880.
There’s Otama and her father, her master, and the student. And there’s Otsune and her husband the moneylender.

The introduction mentions “the inner world struggles with the questions of silence and communication, duty and freedom, restraint and compulsion.” And “tension and conflict”. All these themes and their treatment do really seem to capture the social ambiance at the time of Japan’s opening to the Western world and values.

However, the book left me a bit disappointed.

First with the pace and organization of the story.
We are introduced to the student Okada, but then, for most of the book, we get a story within a story, focusing now on the dormitory servant and usurer Suezo, before finally getting back to Okada much later.

The emphasis is on duty and resignation, words that Kingo Ochiai, in the introduction, connects with the author’s military years.

Gradually her thoughts settled. Resignation was the mental attitude she had most experienced. And in this direction her mind adjusted itself like a well-oiled machine.
Chapter 9

Otama seems to be evolving, but not as fast as I expected I guess, based on the premises of the story.
I found the ending very sad for the main female character. I won’t tell more to avoid spoilers.
“A lucid style that often rises to lyric intensity, as in the closing passages”, says the blurb. Lucidity yes, but I missed the lyricism at the end.

Also, I was expecting much more of these poor wild geese, though I can see their symbolic dimension, but they come too late and too abruptly for me in the story.

I hope my expectation won’t be too high for the next book I started for this challenge: How Do You Live ? the famous middle grade novel that Miyazaki is preparing to feature in his next anime.

VERDICT: Short novel with a good social portrait of the time, but disappointing in its pace and ending.

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30 thoughts on “Book review: The Wild Geese

  1. Pingback: Japanese Literature Challenge 15 | Words And Peace

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  3. Hmm… I think I’m disappointed already in the ending, imagining where it goes. Sounds like a nice look at the time though in terms of social detail. I don’t imagine she had a lot of options, sadly…

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  5. I’ll be honest with you: Mori Ogai was a stiff old writer, not the most enticing stylist. But he brought so much of the Western tradition into Japanese literature and helped to modernise it, he was also an insightful critic, so he deserves a place in the pantheon of Japanese literary lights. But yes, I think he probably captures fairly accurately the lack of options of young Japanese women at the time.

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  7. How did this escape me? I seem to have troubles getting all the reviews I want or overlook them because I don’t see any pictures in the announcements at the moment (hopefully won’t last forever).

    Anyway, what a shame that you didn’t like it. Doesn’t sound that appealing to me anymore. And there are so many other good books about Japan at all times, I think I’ll give this a miss.

    Thanks for the introduction and review.

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    • Marianne, what do you mean by that: “because I don’t see any pictures in the announcements”??
      You might still want to try it: I’m very picky!
      And socially speaking, it’s very interesting.

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      • In Blogger, I have a section called “Reading List” where they show what the blogs I follow have been posting recently. They always used to show the picture of that blogpost with it but haven’t done that for a while so I need to concentrate on the titles alone.

        And I’m picky, as well. A book has to be written well. We’ll see.

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