THE RIVER KI by Sawako Ariyoshi is a great novel despite the clunky metaphor made throughout of the comparison with the path of the river K with Hana Kimoto and the wealthy prominent Matani family she marries into.
It’s a great novel because of the effortless way in which it was written. Most novels prime the reader as if their minds needed those cues-they use foreshadowing and other literary techniques to let the audience know when the big dramatic moments such as the denouement and the climax are coming. This book moves along of its own pace creating a sense of real life where events unfold in a normal fashion without the manipulative moments of other works of fiction, without all the excess verbiage and narrative pointing and shouting.
THE RIVER KI is divided into three parts. The first part introduces Hana and her strong relationship with her grandmother on the eve of Hana leaving her home to go off and marry into the Matani family. The second part is mostly about Hana’s relationship with her rebellious modern thinking daughter Fumio. The third part deals with Hana’s granddaughter Hanako (Fumio’s daughter) and the coming of World War II and the ending of the family’s prosperity.
The book particularly pays a lot of attention to how the old customs clash with the new customs especially in regards to the rights of women. That Hana and Fumio continually butt heads and why is well explained and is centerstage in their scenes together. Hanako represents the modern age and the death of both the way people of a certain higher class live but also all social rituals. She also seems to be just right in her thinking compared with the extremes of her mother and grandmother.
If there is one complaint I have about this book which is pretty much excellent, it would be that the third part feels rushed compared with the other two. All of a sudden there’s WWII and then all of a sudden nobody has any money anymore. It’s a much shorter chapter than the other two.
Still a great book cannot be denied. Beautifully written filled with meticulous descriptions and well rounded characters (Hana’s bitter brother in law Kosaku who secretly loves her is especially memorable). This is the second book I’ve read by Ariyoshi. The first was THE DOCTOR’S WIFE and it was also excellent although THE RIVER KI is technically better in terms of construction and language (It might be partly the translation).