Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

'A Mature Woman': The truth squares off against corrupt Japanese establishments

by Stephen Mansfield

Contributing Writer

Praised by Nobel Prize laureate Kenzaburo Oe and winner of The Independent newspaper’s Foreign Fiction Prize, Saiichi Maruya’s 1993 novel was a welcome release from the prevalence of introspective, confessional narratives in modern Japanese literature.

A Mature Woman, by Saiichi Maruya Translated by Dennis Keene.
322 pages
KODANSHA INTERNATIONAL, Nonfiction.

Influenced by the contemporary English novel’s ability to treat serious, even ponderous topics with a light, comedic touch, Maruya’s work focuses on the travails faced by a fiercely independent woman, Yumiko Minami, working in the stifling, male-dominated world of a prominent daily newspaper.

After one of her articles incenses an influential supporter of the government, the editorial board applies pressure to suppress the content. Instead of bowing to the will of her employers and the directives of shadowy government figures, she goes on the offensive, summoning the support of well-connected friends and family, and the aid of an actress with ties to the prime minister.

In exposing the corrupt forces that course through the body politic, Minami finds her circle split into allies and adversaries, her resolve to publish the truth on a collision course with the forces of a retrogressive establishment bent on the demonization of assertive, single women. Such is the nature of Maruya’s satire, however, that he manages to turn even his most menacing characters into figures with touching human frailties.

Needless to say, the novel’s themes of misogyny, power harassment and the baseless contempt for female advancement have never been more relevant than today.

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