Novel: Wasurenagusa (わすれなぐさ) Guest Review by Hafl

May 25th, 2011

It’s Guest Review Wednesday, thank heavens. Today, returning Guest Reviewer Hafl is going to talk about another of Yoshiya Nobuko’s novels. As you may remember, I consider Yoshiya to be the Grandmother of Yuri and certainly one of the driving forces in the creation of Japanese popular literature for girls, what we think of as the shoujo genre. Any chance to talk about her work – which is relatively unknown in the west – is a good thing. Take it away, Hafl!

On the first glance, Yoshiya Nobuko’s Wasurenagusa (わすれなぐさ) is a tale of three schoolgirls, who become friends and learn to deal with their family situations. On second glance, it is entirely possible to read it as a story of a love triangle, and it does not even require that much effort on part of the reader.

The three main characters are Makiko, who is the ordinary girl, Kazue, who is the quiet and responsible girl, and Youko, who is the spoiled rich girl. Each of them also has family issues they must resolve before the book ends. Youko does not see the value of having a full family. Kazue is the eldest child in a fatherless household and is overly self-sacrificing. Makiko has a terminally ill mother and an authoritarian father, who wants her to completely sacrifice herself for family’s sake and wants her brother to become a scientist like him, despite the boy’s apparent distaste.

In the beginning, Makiko borrows school notes from Kazue, an act which is witnessed by Youko, who immediately starts suffering from jealousy and decides to get Makiko as her special friend. To that end, she employs such various methods as forcing Makiko to crossdress, gift swapping, summer camps, tailor-made dresses and distracting her with many different amusements. However, in the end, her spell over Makiko is broken and Makiko becomes friends with Kazue, who also helps Makiko’s father see that he cannot rule his children with an iron hand.

These are only the bare bones of the plot, which can be read in several different ways. It can be read as a simple tale of three girls becoming friends. It can be read as a veiled attack against Western decadence (It must be significant that Youko, always associated with Western clothing, wears kimono in the last scene of the book). And finally, it can be also read as a story of girl used to always getting her way, who decided to claim one girl for herself – that is the way I chose to read the book, since for me, it is the most fun way.

Wasurenagusa was written in the thirties, some ten years after Hana Monogatari and Yaneura no Nishojo and it shows. The prose style is much easier to read and there are mentions of things that would be simply unacceptable before, like Kazue ‘s father being a soldier who died in China. Even though the book is mostly told from the point of view of the main characters, there is an interruption from Makiko’s brother’s point of view and it shows that if one were to read the book “properly,” the main theme is not the relationship between the girls, but in relationships in family…and that the book’s more or less explicitly told stance on those relationships is that children must be allowed to find their own way in the world without their parents’ interference.

I tried to not spoil much of the plot, since Wasurenagusa is definitely worth reading. Personally, I would rate it to be about as difficult to read as the Maria-sama ga Miteru novels, so it is not as hard as Yaneura no Nishojo or Hana Monogatari. Or, perhaps, I have just became used to Yoshiya’s style, so I can read it more easily.

Story – 7, It is simple and without many surprise, but nicely told.
Characters – 7, Nothing special, but likable.
Yuri – Between 0 and 6, depending on how you decide to read the book.

Overall – 7, Not a must read, but still recommended.

However, this Wasurenagusa is not the only story titled Wasurenagusa that Yoshiya wrote. There is also an early story of the same name in Hana Monogatari, with the only difference being that the novel’s title is all in hiragana, while the story’s title uses kanji. Let’s take a short look at it:

Toyoko, a new girl at school, feels deeps admiration for an upperclassman, Mizushima-san, but she is unable to confess her feelings. In the end, she just leaves some forget-me-not flowers (wasurenagusa in Japanese) on Mizushima-san’s desk on her graduation day. While nobody dies of a flu epidemic out of nowhere or develops romantic tuberculosis, everybody is still sad. It is a pretty typical story in Hana Monogatari, where two girls separate without even having a proper chance to interact with each other.

Story – 6
Characters – 5
Yuri – About 3

Overall – 6

Thank you Hafl for your perspective – and for your prompt to remind me to read more of Yoshiya’s work.

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