Madame Chrysanthème

4620562229_a354537572What a strange book.

It grips you with beautiful descriptions of Japan, shocks you with harsh, almost racist remarks about its people and leaves you with disgust or pity for the protagonist who had sought after this cold and calculative illusion of a relationship.

In the end she is counting the money while he leaves her like this:

“Well, little mousmé, let us part good friends; one last kiss even, if you like. I took you to amuse me; you have not perhaps succeeded very well, but after all you have done what you could: given me your little face, your little curtseys, your little music; in short, you have been pleasant enough in your Japanese way. And who knows, perchance I may yet think of you sometimes when I recall this glorious summer, these pretty quaint gardens, and the ceaseless concert of the cicadas.”

Well, what a great affair that was.


P. Loti (right) with “Chrysanthème” and his friend Yves in Japan, 1885.


The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture


Pros: The idea behind the book was really interesting (written by Japanese english students, edited by their professor, proceeds go to scholarships) and the approach was exactly what I was looking for: straight to the point, each chapter focusing on one Japanese peculiarity.

Maa-maa: In the end of each chapter there were discussion questions and cross cultural issues; some of them intriguing, some of them (maybe most) anticipated.

Cons: the content/writing was also…peculiar. Amateurish? One could expect that since each essay was written by a different student, but I couldn’t help but feel that some concepts were given in extreme, unnecessary detail (amakudari, shōshiki) while others were not given the proper space.

But most importantly in one case it failed to pass the younger (20-30 year old) japanese test: awkward faces ensued when…

…”in Japan the center of feelings is supposed to be the stomach, not the heart right?”
– ???
– …that’s why samurai used to harakiri, no?

Nonetheless I would recommend this book, it is sure to stir up interest and be a good start for further exploration.


Alessandro_baricco_silk_pbA note, her writing in japanese, he could understand nothing, yet he kept it…
Unknown language to him, mysterious, like music can be, no comprehension but still feelings, one feels and hears what he wants to.

The end was shocking.
That selfless, silent devotion and dedication.
The kind of unconditional love which
you do not appreciate until it is too late.
And when it is too late, there is only longing.

(0:09 “κάποτε, κάποτε θα ‘ρθει…” ~sometime, sometime she’ll come…)

‘It is a strange grief.’
‘To die of nostalgia for something you will never live’