Picks and Pans Review: Masks

UPDATED 06/06/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/06/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Fumiko Enchi

Two friends, a doctor and a college teacher, fall in love with a young widow. She lives with her mother-in-law, who is a poet interested in the supernatural. She seems to be encouraging her daughter-in-law to have an affair with the teacher, who has a wife and daughter. Also involved in this opaque tale is a strange, beautiful girl who lives in the house with the two women. Early in this novel, published in Japan in 1958, all the characters visit a Noh theater, whose enigmatic masks become a recurring symbol. The author is noted in Japan for translating into modern Japanese The Tale of Genji, the great 11th-century novel. The translation of Masks into English by Juliet Winters Carpenter, though, is erratic. The reader is constantly distracted by footnotes and awkward language, which accentuate the vast cultural differences that make it difficult for a Westerner to understand what is going on. That's too bad, for at the heart of this novel is a subtle examination of universal female behavior. (Knopf, $11.95)

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