Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Wind and Stone

This novel by Masaaki Tachihara, (1926-1980), tells the story of an affair between a gardener, Kase, and his clients wife, Mizue, she had first encountered Kase some years previously when he worked as an assistant gardener for her parents. The narrative moves quickly telling the story of Mizue's parents death and that of the suicide of her brother after his business fails, Mizue marries to Shida Eiji and begins to raise a family, after moving into a new home Shida employs Kase through a mutual recommendation. The novel weaves between incorporating informative elements and historical texts from traditional Japanese landscape gardening and exploring the emotional complexities faced by each character as the consequences of the affair begin to take their toll. The narrative follows Kase as he plans and constructs the Shida's garden, this process takes many months to implement and is informed by the changing seasons, in between his visits to see how the garden is growing Mizue begins to feel Kase's presence in the garden, she feels that the stones are his eyes keeping watch over her, and that each time she looks at the garden some new aspect about it occurs to her, elements that she had at first not noticed. Kase is a man with a history which still encroaches into his life, already married twice, although these failed due to his absence whilst away working, Emiko still visits him. When Kase travels to Yamagata to work on the garden of an artist Mizue's feelings begin to reach a new level of turmoil, she is gripped by guilt by their meetings, not so much as a woman but as a mother.

Each chapter begins with Kase reflecting on books from the history of Japanese landscaping including, Sakuteiki, 作庭記, commonly known as The Records of Garden Making, and recalls that as a youth he had runaway to visit the gardens at Tofuku-ji Temple in Kyoto, his thoughts on what he agrees and disagrees with classical gardening align with his feelings on the affair and Mizue. The balance of the perspectives of the characters is quite a panoramic one, within the novel aspects of the characters lives which are not related to the affair come into view, with Shida we encounter him when he is dealing with business relating to his family owned business of curing hams. At an intervention of sorts from his mother, Kase is introduced to another woman in Kyoto, Tamiko, whose husband had recently died, the two families know each other and are trying to arrange the marriage, Kase manages to keep the fact that he is seeing Tamiko from Mizue but this is only temporary. The novel is full of allusions to the traditional, but at its core has a devastating sense of emotional bereftness in the wake of the affair, the novel's characters are reduced to the elemental forces referred to in it's title and through Kase's observations. 

What attracted me to reading this novel was the discovery that Yoshida Kiju had based his film Jyouen on one of Tachihara's novels and with this in mind whilst reading I envisioned reading this to a degree a'la Yoshida, some scenes in particular stood out in particular when seen from this perspective. Tachihara was nominated for the Akutagawa Prize and won the Naoki Prize in 1966, the novel was translated by Stephen W. Kohl.

Wind and Stone at Stone Bridge Press 

more information via Kamakura City website on Tachihara Masaaki

Read as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 6

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