The Wild Geese
by Ogai Mori
Translated from the Japanese
by Sanford Goldstein Kingo Ochiai
First published as 雁
in September 1911
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.
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.
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.
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Would you suggest another book by this author?
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