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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Wild Geese

Mori Ogai

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To purchase The Wild Geese

Title: The Wild Geese
Author: Mori Ogai
Genre: Novel
Written: 1913 (Eng. 1959)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Wild Geese - US
The Wild Geese - UK
The Wild Geese - Canada
The Wild Geese - India
L'Oie sauvage - France
Die Wildgans - Deutschland
L'oca selvatica - Italia
El ganso salvaje - España
  • Japanese title: 雁
  • Translated by Sanford Goldstein and Kingo Ochiai
  • Also translated as The Wild Goose by Burton Watson (1995)

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Our Assessment:

A- : oddly charming small story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 25/4/2012 Leopold Federmair

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das Zauberhafte dieses Romans liegt aber jenseits allen Naturalismus in der Beschreibung einer Beziehung zwischen einem jungen Mädchen und einem jungen Mann, die wegen der gesellschaftlichen Stellung der beiden und der moralischen Verhaltensregeln unmöglich scheint, sich aber trotzdem entwickelt, zunächst nur durch Blicke, durch ein Sich-Zeigen am Fenster, dann durch einen kleinen, aber schockierenden Zwischenfall beschleunigt." - Leopold Federmair, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Wild Geese is presented as a story that happened in 1880, a few decades before the narrator put it to paper. He was a student back then, but figures only peripherally in the story -- and the telling -- itself. Instead, the story is of a fellow student and friend, Okada, and the woman Okada fell for, Otama.
       The daughter of a poor candy-maker, Otama was a strikingly beautiful young woman. With her mother dead, Otama worried about being a burden on her father and wanted to be able to provide for him as well. Taken advantage of in a first relationship, she eventually agrees to become the mistress of Suezo -- a one-time student dormitory servant who had parlayed his money-lending business (he helped the students out) into a remunerative enterprise. Suezo set up her and her father in separate houses, each with a maid, allowing them to live in relative comfort.
       Part of the charm of The Wild Geese is in Ogai's descriptions of how the father and daughter adjust to their new living conditions. Otama is at first afraid to even visit her father, despite him living very close by. She wants to be a dutiful mistress, and does her best to play this role, even as she is unsure what exactly is expected of her, especially when Suezo is not there. Meanwhile, her father also tries to keep himself busy, but has trouble adjusting to this life of relative leisure without his daughter's company.
       Suezo treats Otama decently enough, but cracks of sorts appear. Otama learns how Suezo earns his money -- it's not considered an honorable profession -- and it affects her attitude towards him: "Her treatment of Suezo became more cordial but her heart more remote". Meanwhile, Suezo's wife suspects what Suezo is up to and that affects their relationship, too. Suezo tries different approaches to appease his wife, but nothing works.
       And then there's Okada: frequently passing by, he can't help but notice Otama, and can't help but catch her eye. Is there any hope and future there ? There is a point when fate seems to make for a window of opportunity -- Suezo will be spending the night away at Chiba, and the little maid is at her parents'. But this is also a story called The Wild Geese, and there have been no wild geese until then ... and, yes, they do come to play a role in how this all plays out.
       The narrator admits he learnt half this story from Okada, and the other half, later, from: "Otama, with whom I accidentally became acquainted"; taking these two accounts he fashioned this story, "comparing and combining what I knew earlier and what I heard later". Coyly he leaves unanswered the question as to how he came to know Otama (though he does specifically note that he lacked: "the requisites that would qualify me to be Otama's lover"), but this sense of mystery is fitting with the book as a whole.
       With its overlap of different societal expectations and standards, The Wild Geese presents a vivid picture of late nineteenth-century Japan. A novel of crossroads and crossed paths, it is full of chance meetings and sightings. With its different strongly drawn characters -- Otama and her father, Okada, Suezo and his wife are all vividly presented -- The Wild Geese is an appealing romantic tale that feels much fuller than its 120-page-length would suggest.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 March 2013

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The Wild Geese: Reviews: Mori Ōgai: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Mori Ōgai (森鴎外) lived 1862 to 1922.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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