Masks – by Fumiko Enchi

Yasuko is the daughter-in-law of the Togano family. Her husband died from being swept away by an avalanche on Mount Fuji while going hiking two years ago, but Yasuko still stays with the family. She continues her husband’s work in spirit possession and helps Mieko, her mother-in-law, edit a poetry magazine as well as being her secretary keeping schedules on social gatherings, poetry readings, etc… She is described as young, smart, and beautiful, and two men have fallen in love with her after her husband’s death – one is a single psychologist doctor, and the other is a married professor teaching at the same department as her husband did.

Mieko, having lost her fist child when she first got married due to the jealousy of her husband’s mistress, turned bitter in life and has been seeking revenge. She is always wearing a cold face and no one can tell what she really feels and thinks. Yasuko has said that “the secrets inside her mind are like flowers in a garden at nighttime, filling the darkness with perfume.” She manipulated Yasuko to remain in the family and have an affair with the married professor. Yasuko deep down wanted to leave and live her own life independently, but she couldn’t, as if under her spell.

Masks was written with the underlying motifs of No mask, shamanism, folklore, traditional Japanese theater. There are plenty of discussions about No masks, about spirit possession in the Tale of Genji. There is even an eerie description of a séance in the book.

Masks was written in 1958 in Japan where patriarchy was dominated. Fumiko Enchi was known for writing novels to empower women, or to depict women’s retribution against men, particularly thru her theory on shamanism in this case.
“In our own day, shamanism seems to have withered and died. Yet does it not, on second thought, offer a partial explanation of the power women still have over men? Perhaps it is true, as Buddhism teaches us, that this power constitutes woman’s greatest burden and delusion – and ultimately her greatest sin. But the sin is inseparable from a woman’s being.”

Masks really is a masterpiece. The writing is beautiful, the characters are deep and layered, and the story is intriguing. It offers a look into Japanese folklore culture and women’s intricate psychology.

Masks by Fumiko Enchi
Published in Japanese in 1958
Published in English by Juliet Winters Carpenter in 1983.

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