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‘Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories’ is feminist fiction at its most disturbing

by

Special To The Japan Times

“Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories” is a superb collection of short stories written in the 1960s by one of the most significant feminist writers of postwar Japan.

Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories, by Kono Taeko, Translated by Lucy North.
276 pages
New Directions, Fiction.

Kono Taeko — who died in January last year at the age of 88 — freely admitted the influence of Junichiro Tanizaki on her stories. In his novels, Tanizaki explored the taboo of perverted desire, and similarly Kono’s female protagonists seethe with neuroses and masochistic sexual desires.

The stories in this collection, however, are more shocking than anything Tanizaki ever penned because Kono’s “perversions” are not flaunted but stoically borne by her female characters. There is a strong sense that these desires arise because the characters are forced to live under psychologically oppressive cultural constraints.

In one of her most disturbing stories, “Snow,” the female protagonist is the illegitimate daughter of her father’s mistress. The wife, overcome with hysteria at her husband’s infidelity, murders her own infant. The murder is hushed up when the illegitimate protagonist is forced to stand in for her dead stepsister.

In all these stories, Kono judges Japan itself as a false parent to its psychologically oppressed women — she shows the nation seeking to replace the identities of its female population with something untrue and imposed.

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