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Saneatsu Mushanokōji: 愛と死 (Love and Death)

This is a fairly simple but well-told story of a romance. The narrator – Mr. Muraoka – is twenty-five years old. He is a budding writer and friend of a more successful writer, five years older than him, Mr. Nonomura. Nonomura has a sister, Natsuoko. Muraoka knows her but not till she is older does he pay any attention to her and realises how beautiful she is. Muraoka is invited to Nonomura’s thirty-third birthday party. At this party, everyone is asked to do a party piece but Muraoka is too shy to do so and the others mock him. Natsuoko volunteers to take his place and she does a somersault, which impresses everyone, including her brother. Muraoka is very grateful to her for saving him from embarrassment and, from this point on, they start a low-key relationship.

Though low-key, Mushanokōji shows the ambiguous nature of the relationship between Muraoka, Nonomura and Natsuoko. Natsuoko, for example, finds her brother both very wise and very foolish but she looks up to Muraoka (whom she addresses as sensei, to his embarrassment) and, of course, falls in love with him. Nonomura thinks highly of Muraoka (though others do not seem to do so) and, according to his sister, is afraid of him. Their relationship progresses till his family get wind of it. His uncle, who is living in Paris, invites him to Paris, apparently to get him away from Natsuoko. He proposes to Natsuoko and they agree to wait till his return to get married. He sets off for Paris for six months. By his own admission, while he enjoys Paris and Italy, which he also visits, he does not have much to say about his journey, focusing instead on Natsuoko, whom he thinks about continually and to whom he writes continually. He eagerly awaits her letters, as the pair of them plan their marriage.

The story is written twenty-one years later by Muraoka, for whom the memory of Natsuoko is still fresh though they never did marry. As I said, it is a simple story, told in the Japanese low-key style but Mushanokōji tells a moving if sad tale.

Publishing history

First published by Poplar Publishing in 1939
First English translation published by Twayne Publishers in 1958