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Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers – Kang Sok-Kyong, Kim Chi-won, Oh Jung-hee

Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers

Women writers. Women penning the trials and tribulations of being a woman. The pen and ink bidding farewell to the prevailing apprehensions. The spoken language of an individual narrowed by gender hierarchy labouring in relative anonymity, women write, knocking down the heavily guarded patriarchal gates of a traditional society , the defining emergence diminishing the glaring divide of public from domestic life, where men reigned the former and women the latter. How does one designate the essence of being a woman? How does one quote a chapter and verse from the consequential book of womanhood? Women who have conventionally been beheld as someone’s daughter, someone’s wife and someone’s mother; their own individual identity lapsing into being a mere legal signature on few sheets of paper. How does one then define the constitution of Korean women? Or can you? Women who are as diverse as the land itself spanning through generations, cultural edifications and numerous personal and societal evolutions seeking an autonomy to their existence in an overwhelming patriarchal world. How does one ever answer the unwelcomed question of signifying the autonomy of womanhood? The patriarchal advocacy of literature, the very notion of belles- lettres being the prime avocation of cultural gentlemen, the adversities of gender discrepancies shadowing the laboured efforts of women writers derides the valid declaration of talent having no gender whatsoever. The contemporary Korean women writers (three of whom being mentioned in this book) bring forth an notable insight to the strenuous effort of their emergence from a society profoundly influenced by the Confucian precepts, finally breaking out from their obscurities. The undying spirit of their penned narrative, the meticulous characterization, accomplish a sophisticated sensory faculty of symbolism sketching the evolution of Korean women in a rapidly modernized world


“……to accept our own lives, and without such thoughts to make us feel good, how could we live? We women were facing up to life with our bodies as our only asset. We may now have smelled like roses, but we got to learn all about life and freedom in our way…..”

The picturesque forsythias blooming on a palace walls, the beauty of scenic spring stretching on a wall calendar in a clinic testing venereal diseases befits the stark revelation of a social world where days and dreams brim with the futility of a traumatic past and the aspirations of striving for a dignified existence. Kang Sŏk-kyŏng allegorizes the social status of prostitutes surviving on the U.S. military base in Korea, to a drifting isolated island, a temporary home destined to subsist in loneliness of abandonment. The slight flicker of hope within melancholia is the hallmark of their lives which struggle to find a haven of freedom and integrity. In the endless fight for human dignity, their bodies become the sole measure of self-defence, a path to their freedom however despicable. The marginal women thriving on the societal periphery seek comfort among their ilk, the labelling of “leftovers” a crude irony, in a world where men carry the burden and the badge of brutal enforcers. The rebellion and restraints to freedom, personal choices of women shackled by archaic ethos stretches afar from the Korean peninsula into the male-dominance of the Western world, applying universality factor to the predicament of women sexuality condemned to abhorrence. “But if two women see eye to eye, there’s no law that says they can’t live together,” said Toma.” So what if they’re lesbians? People live the way they want to. And so what if we’re whore? Except for worrying about money, it’s great living around the base. No husband to treat us rough, no kids to worry us, no one interfering with us.”

The controversial subject of a woman’s body becoming the weapon for her emancipation edges on the possibility of emotional vulnerabilities and inconspicuous rebellion. Kim Chi-wŏn dwells in to unchartered territories where the society as a whole becomes the source of shame for a woman. The collective chauvinism that safeguards the sanctimonious matrimonial institution rests upon the humiliation of women. The marital sacrosanctity ruthlessly abused under the assumed patriarchate prerogative. Kim Chi-wŏn is scrupulous in rendering the dual state of relationship between a man and a woman , raising a similar yet different issue concerning the life of a Korean woman immigrant in U.S. The quest for a resourceful independence gives Yun-ja a possibility of a certain beginning, a marriage based purely on monetary and legal convenience. The probability and improbability of a ‘real marriage’ immerses in reflections of a financial arrangement, age and divorce. The disconnect of a woman and the society is evident in the final libertine declaration.


“Longing for something to sustain and steady her, the woman nevertheless tended to to doubt the permanence of everything. Do flowers last more than ten day? And floods that look like they’ll sweep the world away are gone in a couple days, aren’t they? But her relief that the world was transitory was tempered by the painful realization that society expected marriage to be the most harmonious of human relationships.”

Transience becomes the most fitting lifeline to despondency. Kim Chi-wŏn is scrupulous in rendering the dual state of relationship between a man and a woman. The nightly mellow lullaby sung a mother is marred by domestic brutality, estrangement and resentment. A clandestine corner in the house tries the patience of a battered wife, the harmony of matrimony crumbling into ashes floating on the cold ghostly waters of a pond nearby. The central themes of hopelessness and self-restraint fade away, yet the predictability of self-reliance is still muddled in impermeable monocracy.


“Like a foolish girl you’re trying to find beyond the world. If you’d only given in a little, you wouldn’t have had to go around butting up against the world; you wouldn’t have had to spill your blood. You would have found that the springtime of life isn’t a chain; it’s a pair of wings.”

The self-restraint of rebellion originating from the conventional mores once again twirls the idea of freedom although being the sweet nectar in a claustrophobic milieu; it is the dawn of justice that brings the sweetest aroma in an acrid life. The fortunate franchise of youth caught amid Marxist ideas and democratic upheaval plunges into an abyss of alienation and confusion. The structural sanctity of filial piety bruised by blatant hypocrisy and customary subordination questions the cogency of an inherited male-dominated hierarchy. The pursuit for individuality resulting in either enforced submission or absolute abandonment; agony being the sole companion of nothingness. As a daughter, is trapped between familial obligations and self-exploration, the youthfulness of a sibling risking the madness of a powerless chaotic soul, the maze of confusion unable to find a sheltered room in the woods. Kang Sŏk-kyŏng once again underlines the crucial adherence factor of meritocracy that stamps its social legitimacy of becoming a societal shrine with its ignorance, narcissistic enforcements and submissive gender protocols.

Alienation is seen as one of the strongest denominator in lives of these female characters perpetually trapped in the polarities of modern and conformist worlds. O Chŏng-hŭi in her literary explorations reveals the torments of estrangement when engulfed with the bleakness of death and impermanence. The stories spun a convoluted web of conflict and acquiescence where choices are imaginary. An evening game is vacated for a pleasurable night with a young lover. The women preoccupied by the melodies of a young mother reminiscence her harried past detached from her present apathy. The daily father-daughter card game echoes the whispers of a mother losing her sanity over the loss of her child, a father waiting for his son and a possible infanticide. O Chŏng-hŭi adroitly frames a sequential persecution in an episodic narrative. The vagueness of death seeps into the comprehensibility of life. The grave stones symbolise the quandary of two women, the former seeking a grave plots for her and her husband and the latter contemplating the rationality of her husband’s dubious absence. The words of farewell scatter the memories of physical departure and vacuousness of physical existence.

Talent has no gender. Creativity does not go picking and choosing its master appropriated on the grammatical gender system dais. Literature has no single definition. The vexing question then arises as to why women are the only ones to be bestowed by such an endearing privilege of their entirety being abbreviated through the myopic primal gender regulations? Sarcasm or anxiety of the patriarchy? These stories of Korean women penned by three remarkable women writers encompassing multifaceted thematic nitty gritty of prostitution, youth, death, generational gap, bigotry, sexuality, love and much more, travel beyond the said geographical panorama depicting the notion of universality, broadening the thematic accessibilities of the female characters chronicling their own future detached from their status as someone’s mother, wife or daughter. In the current ongoing global scenario where women’s rights are easily bargained, a coming of an age story not cracking down on the deliberations of a quintessential teen male, but, a disquieting collage of a young girl matured beyond her naïve years, life impressions swirling around the nauseating chaos of sex, death and poverty in the war ravaged Seoul district bylanes of Chinatown ,call for a response of literary stimuli to view beyond the charcoal coated faces in the classic Bildungsroman ,an empathetic astute listener to the stories of women acutely ingrained in Korean culture ; the innocence of childhood stepping on the onset of womanhood culminating in the pragmatic…“My menstrual flow had begun.”

 

4/5 ♥♥♥♥

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The Vegetarian – Han Kang

The Vegetarian

 

“…. I went on and came to a tree. The tree told me that one could not talk here because human beings do not understand feelings. I went on, I was sorry to part with the tree because the tree understood me.” – ( The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky)

Abstinence – The passage of self-denial, the resolve of sheer restraint; where does it all begin and where will it eventually end? The steady shedding of birthing desires, the restriction of outwardly impulses marred by internal nightmares, slowly culminating into a growing silence. Silence – the sin of resilience or a rickety salvation from a venomous psychotic turmoil or a falsified symbol of complacency? Complacency , it’s obeisance revered, it’s rebellion sued. The superficiality of an acquired complacency steeped in the will of ignorance, the façade of normalcy shamelessly taking refuge in someone else’s mediocrity. A sense of superiority acquired by the bullish masking of your own imperfections within the blemished veil of others. Power- The artillery of dominance menacing the societal hierarchy, becoming a fateful pawn in haunting gender games separating individual and the community. The woes of patriarchy are magnified by the cultural power play of resilience and rebellion. The loneliness of the body, an individual, muddled in the patriarchal conformism embodying the egotism of a person’s disposed ignorance to the needs of others. The entrapment of individuals within their own individualities; the legitimacy of a human disseminating in societal iniquity. The possibility of violence and the impossibility of beauty thriving in the chaotic mesh of human feelings; abstinence being the only respite to an existing nirvana.

Yeong-hye’s proclamation of being a vegetarian triggered a distressful cycle of abuse and self-annihilation. The status of women in a patriarchal society is marred with agonizing conflicts. The aching desire to maintain normalcy in a gingerly structured survival balancing the hierarchical constitution burgeons with a sense of superiority and the thriving of a submissive spouse. The thought of quitting the existing conflicts, the surreal yearning to sprout from the earth, the undertaken path of abstinence frees the body from the vicissitudes of the mind. The radical spirit of a woman powerless in a world enveloping values that demands a bona fide conformity, endures the burden of her choices being ruthlessly interpreted on a communal dais.

“This was the body of a beautiful young woman, conventionally an object of desire, and yet it was a body from which all desire had been eliminated.”

The entrapped melanocytes claim their dermal existence in a patterned bluish-gray birthmark. The ugliness of the Mongolian Mark disproves the beautiful distinctiveness of the melanocytes condemning the presence of the dermal cells that are different in their formation. The psychedelic floral patterns painted on Yeong-hye’s naked body bury the unsightliness of the Mongolian Mark in the alluring work of art. The beauty of the art evoking a repulsive guilt of carnal desire. Art is escapism. Sex, the beaten path to escape into a fantasy. The worlds of art and sex collide merging the flesh and identities, faceless humans, the body becoming distinct, free-moving into a whole new entity. The ultimate nullification of personality and identity. The intensity of the emotions clashing over the quandary of body over mind wrapped up in surrealism of unrestricted art. Free-will convulsing within the bounds of insanity, drives the notion of sexual freedom to the edge of a carnal conundrum.

“ Was he a normal human being? More than that, a moral human being? A strong human being, able to control his impulses?”

When the fear of losing everything overrides the self-assured convictions deterring a restrictive conscious encompassing unrestrictive art, freedom becomes a luxury. The discomforting anxiety burdens the agony of self-realization. The notion of an ‘absolute freedom’, an untainted freedom beyond the realms of self-examinations trapped between the battles between normality v/s animalistic fervour and morality v/s immorality. The impulses of self–obliteration hovering over Yeong-ho.

Identity becomes a farcical metaphor floating in its own singularity. The human body is torn between its own language and the language imposed by others. The individual and the community segregated by the former’s quest to explore the terrains of freedom confronting the limitations of the society; the sum and substance of ‘identity’ collapsing within an individual. Han Kang is meticulous in layering the intricacies of mainstream Korean Society laminating the cultural fringes in the dual domains of “social-self” and “solitary-self”. The concept of freedom and identity carved in harmony with the workings of societal dogmas rather than those of an individual is tactfully highlighted through the firm notion that people are somehow in debt of the socio-cultural benevolence. The menacing arcs of gender, food, sexual liberation, sexual violence, abuse, mental maladies and suicide dismantles the values of personal freedom with asphyxiating constraints. Thus, the fatalities of individualities misplaced in the struggles, societal responsibilities and imposed taboos; the denied personhood exiled in the feelings of displacement.

“Whether human, animal or plant, she could not be called ‘a person’, but then wasn’t exactly some feral creature either – more like a mysterious being with qualities of both”

Personal identity becomes highly subjective in this three-tier narrative. Each of Han Kang’s focal characters struggle amid the legitimacy of their personhood. Be it In-hye, who has this incredible ability to adapt to any dire circumstances with staunch endurance, binding up her wounds with an ingrained smothering stability. Yeong-ho , who weighed down by his own battles of moral obligations and self-depravity. Lastly, Yeong-hye’s husband who exemplifies the nitty-gritty of a patriarchal society. But, the greatest irony of the identity clash stems in the portrayal of Kim Yeong-hye. Despite Yeong-hye being the pivotal common thread throughout the audacious narratives, fails to take the centre-stage. Her personhood becomes secondary forging its way around and through her, in the course of her emaciated life. Yeong-hye is steadily pushed in the background. Her own individuation clings on the opinionated strings of the people around her.

“ Look , sister, I’m doing a handstand; leaves are growing out of my body, roots are sprouting out of my hands……they delve down into the earth. Endlessly,endlessly…….yes, I spread my legs because I wanted flowers to bloom from my crotch; I spread them wide……..”

Respect – Who deserves the core of its sentiment? The oppressed body that uproots itself from the surface of the human race or the resilient body that submerges under an ocean of emptiness to survive among the human race? Or then, is it the inescapable individual existing within the two claustrophobic bodily milieus, who is the rightful beneficiary of the justified reverence? The predominant existentialism theme encircling this literary reserve, probes the legitimacy of human existence in the state of chaos amplifying the very core of human nature. The individual remains incomprehensible; the significance of kith and kin disseminating in a ruthless abandonment. Unlike the black bird soaring the blue skies, the earthly bound tree runs short of absolute freedom. A tree may stand solitary on the mountain top, sturdy on the fertile ground, still, its roots run deep, firmly rooted into the earth below. Akin to a tree rooted in its earthly codes, an individual is forever rooted into the societal dogmas. An individual is far from being truly free, the cost of an absolute freedom paid through self-annihilation. The supreme exemption from the morally reprehensible decoding of the totality of being attained in the final uprooting of a human being from the society. Is then, the path of abstinence a bane or a boon? At the risk of bizarre insanity devoid of a definite beginning or an end, is then the onset of abstinence a daring last resort to establish identity? And, how farther can a person keep running, far into the deep darkness before crashing into his/her own fractured soul?

4/5 ****

Enslaved – Claire Thompson

Enslaved


“Please”, she whispered throatily. “I don’t have the cash to repay you. Let me make this right some other way”……..

…..” Anything, huh”, he drawled slowly. “Anything to avoid the certain jail time for embezzlement? Anything I want?”

“Anything”, she affirmed……..

 
Omfgintffsoigd! The said sentiment ceases to entice my senses, the plethora of inward bound sentiments no longer adhere to the facial theatrics induced by the omnipresent Urban Dictionary. Wonder whether it is the resonance of the currently playing mellow K-drama OST in the background or the very fact that I’ve finally come to a standpoint in my Erotica readings where the risqué heaving of “throbbing nipples”, “swollen cock” or “clover clamps twisting” is diminishing the resulting possibilities of any toe curling or legs crossing occurrences; deteriorating in the abyss of sensory deprivation. The ‘Yowza!!’ factor nowhere in sight. Neither am I asexual being nor have I been exhibiting any demisexual tendencies lately , yet the anticipation of Sam Ryker dictating his sadomasochistic flair peppered by the pondering whether Rae will earn the privilege of his cock , refuse to electrify the titillating factor ; the ricocheting sexual bullet collapsing midway without any impact. Seduction crumbling in its own irony, thwarting the expectation of an orgasm-centric sexuality. Erotic reads do not make me horny anymore! There I said it !! Could I get couple bonus points for being erudite about my despair??

Nonetheless, despite my titillation factor needing some of its own meditations, it is always a pleasure to read one of Ms. Thompson’s dark BDSM works. Rae Johansen caught in a monetary embezzlement scandal at Ryker Solutions takes a plea bargain, choosing the obedience and submission pattern of Sam Ryker’s dungeon over some jail time. The cat-o-nine tails echoing sans those Xena Warrior bras. My sensory deprivation desiring some visual upgradation. Ms. Thompson ups her BDSM quotient, the sexual kink veering into the sinister territories of S&M strategically highlighted by the vindictiveness of sexual authority. Sam comes across either as an overly ambitious Dom or rather as a reckless one, perplexed by the aptitude of his own sexual dominance, the underlying motivation of vengeance overwhelming the S&M role-playing parameters. Rae , on the other hand, trades the fine line between submission , coercion and sexual liberation.


Power corrupts.

He knew that as well as anyone. The relationship was flawed from the start, doomed to failure by its very setup. Relationship? Sam snorted aloud. There was not relationship. You couldn’t take submission; it had to be given. It was a gift, but, he’d stolen it, wrestled it from her, forced her to hand it over or suffer the consequences/ He’d used the guise of punishment for her stealing from him, but his motives had been far more complex.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

 

Brimming with prejudicial inferences, the sexual stratagem gets a bit tricky when it plunges into the darkest area of the Dom and Sub equation, weighing the dire possibilities of sexual fantasy clashing with sexual realism on the wafer-thin fragility of personal retribution and hardcore sadomasochism. The bondage game play thrives on the very essence of its adherence to fair power play and not resorting to abuse of the power. Thompson’s smartly nurturing of this aspect in the book brings an adept conclusion to this dark feral erotica. Yeperzers!!

3/5***

Capitalism: A Ghost Story – Arundhati Roy

Capitalism: A Ghost Story

Roy brings nothing new to this book. It comes across as a collage of newspaper articles, a copy-paste of Roy’s own previous socio-political writings with may be slight references from the Foreign Affairs Journals or a Forbes Magazine. The befitting description would be this rather intriguing anecdote, during Roy’s book lecture held in 2012 at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

Post her speech, a student, looking at Marxist books on sale outside the venue, summed up the evening: “Dude, I am a hardcore Capitalist. I don’t believe in dismantling capitalism. But what she was talking about is not Capitalism, it was crony Capitalism. And that’s a scourge.”

The above sentence, the very reason of me purchasing Roy’s literary reserve.

3/5 ***

Our Man Friday – Claire Thompson

Our Man Friday

What’s love got to do with a little ménage? What’s love got to do with some backup dick? It seems it does. You’re too much the gypsy when it comes to love! Always seeking something new. Threesome, much? Sex ruins everything. Seriously ‘der ! Mr. McClellan ,he is seriously packing! Fabulous sex, bitchahellacockin’! After a dry spell on the erotica front, I mean books…duh! , an instant urge for a pleasantly satisfying ménage à trios in need of an immediate fix. Yes! “pleasantly satisfying” , is what I was looking for. I’m not a sucker for romance. Give me a St. Andrew’s Cross over a lingering sweet kiss, anytime. But hey! A girl’s gotta have her R&R! Just some overly spent ménage sessions.

Six bottles of beer down, two to go. Is this some kind of song I’m hearing? So, what have we here, gypsies of love, Ian and Cassidy entangled in the “friends better than lovers” mess. Enter Kye McClellan. Woo, make some place, hotness coming through!!! And, then the master bedroom was a never a dull place. Claire Thompson does a plausible work convincing the vulnerabilities of the three protagonists with their fear and exploration of love and sex. Ha! Look I’m fucking Freud now. Coke much? Diet Coke for my J Walker, bitches! The sexual encounters are hotness overlapping. Thompson never disappoints on the orgasmic front. The m/m, f/m sessions are quite mellow when compared but, then this is not a hardcore BDSM. The book plays out smoothly and rather enjoyable with an ending that is ‘pleasantly satisfying’ and with all my booze gone and with the three gypsies finally finding “home”, maybe a little S&M could have made it a little trashy. I vouch for Kye as the credible Master Dom.

4/5****

Confessions of Love – Uno Chiyo

Confessions of Love

“I wonder where I should start…” The dense sentiment of Yuasa Joji’s words lingered as I embarked on this literary documentation. My perishable deliberations fleeted from the quirky passionate adventures of Joji to the resolving core of Uno Chiyo’s audacious vibrancy. What, if I was a man? Would I be able to brazenly shove my penis into a vagina that voluntarily opened in front of me , without the repercussion of societal prejudices? My masculinity measured by the depth of my promiscuity reasoning the democratic sexual vulnerability. Would the sentiment of ‘love’ be on the tip of my penis, vanishing at the very instance of my sexual fulfilment? Or would I crave for the precise emotional upheaval of a woman’s dilemma? My aspirations of desiring to be a man are solely for the sense of sexual freedom. Why is it that when a woman seeks sexual pleasure for reasons other than “love” is defined through despicable labelling? Is it the sole responsibility of a woman to construe the lucid characterization of ‘love’ through her marriage and sexuality, whilst the puzzlement of the said sentiment becomes a prerogative of a man? What if I articulated through a man’s voice elucidating the woes of both the genders? Will I achieve the sense of freedom experienced by Uno Chiyo, herself? The wishful contemplation remains to be seen.


“Had I ever once been in love? Never. That was because I wasn’t the type of man who falls in love, was I?……………. I had in fact become nothing more than a scoundrel who had cleverly learned his lessons while abroad. It was just now my expertise had developed further and I was able to put on a show of falling in love.”

The far-reaching panorama of love confessions recounting the romantic experiences of an apathetic Western-style artists challenging the traditionalist perception of women ; experimenting on new found liberation of woman’s sexuality and financial independence. Uno Chiyo ardently scripts the attention-grabbing lifestyles or to be truthful, life choices of three audacious female protagonists associated with the progressive picture of the Japanese “modern girls”- modan garu or ‘mo-ga’. The steady rise in urbanisation brought a plethora of social changes with young women replacing their reams of kimono with much vibrant and fanciful Western-styled clothing, aping the Westernized philosophies the modernized youth culture engaged in a bohemian existence scandalous to the yet traditionalist Japanese society. Chiyo, herself being at the helm of such restructured image led an outrageously audacious life with her preference for vibrant make-up and chic dressing and for her democratic approach to social and personal demeanour. The idea of love and sex etched by the irrational imagery of “good wife” or “good girl” smothers the women in this manuscript by constant ethical validity. The knotty lives of the four women enmeshed with Joji’s capricious oddity reflect Chiyo’s own asphyxiation when experimenting with the new found freedom, the men in her life and the matrimonial hypocrisy.

If Joji can mull over the probabilities of genuine love with a pardonable defence, why is the same self-exploring conduct of Takao or Tomoko’s experimentation seen as scandalous and wayward act? When the act of sex weighs more towards the lure of lust than love, can’t it be enjoyed with gusto,equally by both men and women without the latter being embellished with unflattering terminology? The concept of love is not as vacillating as the male protagonist, seeing that the sentiment of love does eventually flourish to a fanatical climax.


“This what a home was supposed to be and in a home it made no difference what the husband thought or what was on the wife’s mind, just as long as one lived peacefully, wrapped in great warmth.”

The onset of Taisho democracy conveyed a fresh libertarian attitude in the 1920s Japanese society enlightening a myriad of political philosophies persuaded by Westernization. The establishment of the democratic environment split the war prone Japan into two communal doctrines. The exertion of challenging the old while embracing the new, mislaid a sense of belonging within the populace, especially the youth. Uno Chiyo delineates similar dilemmas wrestled by the befuddled characters in this ‘shosetsu’. Yuasa Joji’s predicament of fitting into two polarised world sympathizes with the likelihood of him accustomed to the European life-style while study art in France. His yearning and frantic search for a “comforting home” exposed the alienation endured by Joji in both his social and private life. A forlorn domestic front, impassioned sexual affairs and high susceptibility to the female exquisiteness generates an erratic yet sympathetic persona to Joji’s entirety as a man perpetually stuck within its own isolation. Parallel conjectures are also detected in the lives of Joji’s women. Takao’s feral sexual prowess and obstinacy for exploring sexual and emotional freedom like a man; Tomoko’s self reflection on her burdensome marital life and the subsequent extra-marital expedition with Kurota; Matsuyo’s intense yearning for a divorce freeing her from the monotony of a passionless marriage and then Tsuyuko, whose life weighed down by the eternal fight against the desolation of love and the repressive familial milieu.

Each of Chiyo’s illustrated women was jammed between the explorations of emotional, sexual and social independency carving their own niche in the society yet, somehow restricted by financial dependence due to hierarchical and gender chauvinism. Uno Chiyo steadily gives a commonsensical depth to Yuasa Joji comparing the daunting visibility of ‘modan boi’ or rather an ‘urbane man’. Joji’s quest of a ‘warm and peaceful home’ diminishing within Tomoko’s residential domesticity was a momentary respite for his neither his or Tomoko’s heart could find a permanent refuge in this materialistic solace.


“I had Tsuyuko’s love the way a baby searches for a mother’s breast, but no matter how long I journeyed I still found no refuge where my heart could came to rest.”

The dissection of the romantic crescendo culminating in suicidal brouhaha sharply cuts through the biographical narration of the Parisian nurtured artist- Seiji Tōgō and Chiyo’s life with him. Togo known for his contemporary art as well as his flamboyant love –life and a vastly publicised act of lover’s suicide, had encountered Uno Chiyo on of her attempts to write a novel encompassing the romanticism of a ‘love suicide’. Intriguing as it replays, the bizarre episode of Chiyo spending a night with Togo on the same blood-stained futon recapping Tōgō’s fruitless suicide attempt , possess an sinister eroticism that Chiyo brings into her prose. The ‘watakushi shosetsu’(I-novel) overpowering the confessional fictionalized account of Seiji Tōgō is a road to liberalism collapsing into nothingness when bent towards a controversial Japanese society still shackled within the burrows of conventional dogma inundated with volatility and misapprehensions.

Not to be easily dismissed as a romantic fluff from the 1920s literary era, the archetypal Japanese hero, a charismatic man weakened by female sexuality, fabricates a sense of coherent evaluation when scrutinized through the concave disposition of the desperation and vagueness of sexual rendezvous and the chaotic ideological consumption of three women crammed in the bohemian allure of modernisation. The warmth of a mother’s breast, the passion of a lover’s body and the draughtiness of the heart misplaced in uncanny temperament of love shatters the lives of those involved in Yuasa Joji’s lyrical portrayal of love marred by reckless sexual vulnerabilities and the calamitous progression towards romantic emancipation.

3/5***

Masks – Fumiko Enchi

Masks

Two parts of rice powder + one part of Cetaphil lotion, softening in the reluctant warmth of my palm, on a droning afternoon. Not a single Noh mask in sight. The docile wintry wind was hardening the gummy paste onto my fingers; restricting the imminent bastardization of the Kabuki splendour about to take place in front of an ignorant mirror. Two streaks on the cheeks, one pat on the nose, then the forehead and remaining three strokes on the neck. The wheatish dermal stretch steadily concealed within the ephemeral white sheath. The shiny red lacquer swiftly swept across the lips prompting the black kohl liner to smartly march beneath the eyes. With the last swipe of the palm, my face had confined itself within the gelatinous pale interiors, its fine lines disappearing among the smooth exterior. Ethereal unfamiliarity reflecting through the mirror and the pair of lonely perplexed dark brown irises turned out to be the solitary window of sincerity. What was I thinking? What was I testing? This act of frivolity. The pasty concoction plastered on my face had somehow pacified my nerves entangling them within my frenzied thoughts; the rowdy roads outside were suddenly silenced. The blood gushing through my veins seemed to have forgotten to warm up my skin, bursting it into a sea of goosebumps. Such was the captivating power this childish act.

Ryo no Onna 霊女


“Just as there is an archetype of woman as the object of man’s eternal love, so there must be an archetype of her object of his eternal fear, representing, perhaps the shadow of his own evil actions.”

The famous Rokujo Lady, the scorned lover of Prince Genji occupies a pivotal position mirroring the temperament of the Togano matriarch. As the love chronicle replays in the ‘Tale of Genji’, the Rokujo Lady after feeling betrayed and envious of Genji’s new wife Lady Aoi, the repressed soul of Rokujo lady caused the spirit to leave her body and torment Lady Aoi. Enchi’s prominence on the portrayal of Rokujo Lady conceptualizes the origin of Mieko’s facade. Mieko Togano’s affinity towards the Rokujo Lady, purely on empathetic grounds, brings forth a human aspect to one of the most devilish personality in the Japanese literary history. The nationally prized ‘Ryo no onna’ mask is chilling in its ghoulish appearance. The frosty exterior concealing a burning secret asphyxiating long nurtured desires with astound tranquillity. The act of séance, the ceaselessly floating spirit possessing another soul whilst creating a physical medium to procure communication reflects the mystical properties of a ‘mask’ possessing a physical visage fastening on to its human medium. The darkness of inhibited desires, muffled sexual prowess transmits a “shamanistic” vibe haunting the dilemma of a woman’s self-pride. The role plays interchanging between Mieko and the Aguri lady. Enchi’s inclusion of the ‘shamanistic ritual’ as a route probing the validity of an outwardly experience in a world of reality favours the depth of attraction that Mieko has toward the Rokujo Lady and the connotation of Yasuko and Mieko veiled under a inexplicable expression.

Furthermore, besides the symbolic inclusion of The Tale of Genji , Enchi makes noteworthy references to ‘Yoru no Nezame’ and ‘The Tales of Ise’ to elucidate the magnetism of sexual ecstasy that segregates realism from dreamy confusions orchestrating the incompetence of human emotions and the competence of self- ego, a weight indissoluble from a woman’s being.

Masugami 増髪


“This mask forms a unique type, that of a woman in a state of frenzy.” – Toyoichiro Nogami.

The philosophical lyricism that Mieko found in the Rokujo Lady descends on Harume’s existence. The Masugami masks represents the “madwoman” or rather “a young woman in a state of frenzy”; a divine being heightened by spirit of shamanisms, the body meant for human manipulation. The worldly, newly married Mieko, the Aguri lady in the Togano family or Harume whose beauty shines with soft docility amid fireflies, who would be the true possessor of the mask, I wondered? The silent body of Harume reveals the inner eccentric world of the Togano domesticity. Enchi’s delineation of Harume borders on ghostly metaphors creating a chimera of a pure soul and an untainted body, acquiring an impenetrable emptiness. Sex is viewed as more of a corporeal act dismissing any logical reasoning, prostituting the body as a medium in trance yielding a woman’s reticent self-worth; sarcastically opposing the patriarchal institution. The Masugami mask perfectly fits Harume whose ‘bright-camellia lips’ pouring with sensuality, mask the melancholic silence that consumed her.

Fukai 深い


Her spirit alternated constantly between spells of lyricism and spirit possession making no philosophical distinction between the self alone and in relation to the other and unable to achieve the solace of a religious indifference.”

A middle-age woman with “exceedingly deep heart”, tattered by the memories of a loved one. A gloomy well where secrets buried deeply in the colourless waters are echoed through freezing solitude. The woman who is driven by her painful past, her unappeasable ambition and her swindled pride and who finds solace in poetic charms, Mieko becomes the mask and the mask anticipates the arrival of Yasuko.

Magojirō 孫次郎

The mask representing a young woman with an alluring femininity at the zenith of her beauty forms the caricature of Yasuko. Yasuko’s relationship with Mieko suggestively marginalizes cynicism of a homosexuality. Conversely to the many debatable assumptions, Yasuko’s faithful attachment to Mieko represents the unwritten rules of sisterhood and the lasting love for Akio. The quandary of hankering independence and incidental dependence calculates Yasuko as the quintessential masked host, the illusory medium. Enchi’s ‘Masks’ develops into a forbidden malicious game challenging the age-old hierarchal social institutions.


When you know the masks as well as we do, they come to seem like the faces of real women.

The ornately convoluted narrative interweaves a pandemonium of manipulation, vengeance, sexuality, androgyny, undertones of homosexuality, shamanistic procedures defining the fine line between mythical divinity and human psychology and most of all the spirituality of a woman and her body polluted by the hypocritical patriarchy. Enchi’s women are represented through their bodies residing on the periphery of a social system. The female body becomes a liberating source unifying the mind into one single entity. The body becomes the mind voicing the dilemmas of a repressed woman. The uterus then becomes the twofold weapon of fulfilment and misery. Sexuality strongly comes in play categorising body, sex and womb as significant parameters of female identity unable to find recognition through the world of thoughts. Enchi’s emphasis of bringing the female individuality through the representation of a perishable yet sexual physicality depicts the second-rate status of women in a patriarchal society. The body and the womb, which could be easily outlawed for being futile or fouled, cultivate the victimisation of a woman bordering ambivalent psyche. Mieko Togano’s brazen usage of sexual ecstasy mocks the feudal social codes turning the patriarchal system upside down. Meiko’s malevolent strategies of using men as pawns for the fulfilment of her own aspirations is downright fascinating when perceived with ironical display of men bestowing the equivalent treatment to women for decades.

Enchi‘s insatiable prose immaculately communicates between the nobility of the Noh art and the interrelated configurations illuminating the empathetic world beyond the dreamy artistry asserting the awareness and subjectivity of self-existence in societal segregation and the search for a plausible independence. The androgynous nature of Noh (male actors playing female roles) delicately unearths the unisexual nature constituting spirituality between a male and a female foetus embodying the equitable nature of the womb. Enchi further takes this particular Noh element into depicting the similarities between the divergent subsistence of Akio and Harume. Masks is Enchi’s masterwork in exploring the fundamental nature of a woman’s mentality through the realms of her body inferring the palpable scenario of the female body resonating the cry of an demoralized soul when the mouth is muted.

Are women a bunch of vengeful creatures? Are they viciously manipulative? If a woman’s naive devotion to the capricious love rapidly festers into endless flow of a rancorous “river of blood”; the power of hatred thunderously churning the vicissitudes of love, the unjust reality and the deepened longings harbouring the darkness of its remoteness. If a woman’s hatred is terrifying, if the fascination for retribution resonates the shrieks of a frenzied banshee possessing the very constitution of a wounded woman; the puppetry of the stoic masks fervently gripping the intensity of grief, its arrogance only to be momentarily washed down by a solitary soft tear. Then what would one concur about the ‘man’ who had helped to sow these fateful seeds of acrimony? Yes, what about that person? Does he not play a single part in the crime? Where would the man stand in the indicted arena of being either an accomplice or rather a culprit? Or is it that the man has always been a privileged animal of a blameless acquittal?
Men are susceptible to that sort of thing. Our society gets so worked up over it now, always siding with the woman, that no one dares examine the matter fairly, that’s the way it is.

The eastern winds had boorishly cracked the pearly smoothness. Yet, the aura of the pasty concoction withstood the repugnance of the flaky visage. Shamelessly exposed and vulnerable as my face stood amid the grainy diluted swirls, it was still caught up in the rapture of the Rokujo Lady and the women of the Togano household. The lasting traces of goosebumps could vouch for it.

4/5****