The Maids is a jewel: an astonishing complement to The Makioka Sisters, set in the same house, in the same turbulent decades, but among the servants as much as the masters. The Maids concerns all the young women who work—before, during, and after WWII—in the pampered, elegant household of the famous author Chikura Raikichi, his wife Sanko, and her younger sister. Though quite well-to-do, Raikichi has a small house: the family and the maids (usually a few, sharing a little room next to the kitchen) are on top of one another. This proximity helps to explain Raikichi’s extremely close observation of the maids and their daily lives, although his interest carries with it more than a dash of the erotic, calling to mind Tanizaki’s raciest books such as Diary of a Mad Old Man and The Key.
In the sensualist, semi-innocent, sexist patrician Raikichi, Tanizaki offers a richly ironic self-portrait, but he presents as well a moving, nuanced chronicle of change and loss: centuries-old values and manners are vanishing, and here—in the evanescent beauty of the small gestures and intricacies of private life—we find a whole world to be mourned. And yet, there is such vivacity and such beauty of writing that Tanizaki creates an intensely compelling epic in a kitchen full of lively girls.
Ethereally suggestive, sensational yet serious, witty but psychologically complex, The Maids is in many ways The Makioka Sisters revisited in a lighter, more comic mode.