A Tale of False Fortunes

Enchi Fumiko

translated from the Japanese by Roger K. Thomas
University of Hawaii Press 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2000 http://dannyreviews.com/
Set in Japan at the end of the tenth century, A Tale of False Fortunes (Namamiko monogatari) tells the story of Teishi, daughter of Fujiwara regent Michitaka, who is married as a girl to the young Emperor Ichijo. When Michitaka dies, power shifts within the family: the dowager Empress prefers his brothers to his sons and the new regent Michinaga wants his own daughter to be empress. He uses devious means (including false spirit mediums) to try to undermine Teishi's position, and lady-in-waiting Kureha and her lover, secretary of police Yukikuni, are caught up in his machinations.

The frame of A Tale of False Fortunes is complex. Writing in 1965, Enchi purports to be remembering a now lost manuscript of her father's which she saw forty years earlier, a manuscript which "must have been a transcription of an older book from the Kamakura or Muromachi period, or possibly a fictional work by a not-so-famous literary scholar of the Tokugawa period". She mixes extracts from and paraphrases of that imagined work with extracts from real works (notably the eleventh century "A Tale of Flowering Fortunes") and her own commentary.

I thought this (filtered through the additional barrier of translation into English) might be difficult to follow, but it is actually accessible and engaging. A Tale of False Fortunes works both as a novel and as an introduction to a fascinating historical setting. Roger Thomas contributes a useful introduction, but the only essential infrastructure is a family tree, without which the relationships between the characters would be confusing.

November 2000

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%T A Tale of False Fortunes
%A Fumiko, Enchi
%M Japanese
%F Thomas, Roger K.
%I University of Hawaii Press
%D 2000
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0824821874
%P 150pp