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CHILDHOOD YEARS A Memoir by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki translated by Paul McCarthy (Kodansha: $6.95, illustrated)

February 25, 1990|CHARLES SOLOMON

It's difficult to ascertain whether the noted Japanese writer Jun'ichiro Tanizaki (known in the United States as the author of "The Makioka Sisters") based his fiction on his life or if he conceived this self-conscious memoir as a explication of his novels. He says the roots of his work lie in his memories, offering examples of incidents in school or at home that served as models for fictional encounters.

"Childhood Years" resonates with an almost Proustian mania for trivia, including now-vanished addresses where a house stood--or a crime was committed. (As a boy, Tanizaki apparently was fascinated by a lovely geisha who murdered her lover, provoking a major scandal and providing an image of fearful beauty.) His recollections of pre-World War II Tokyo are often fascinating but slightly repellent. Tanizaki seems obsessed with the unpleasant elements of urban life, and recounts problems of personal hygiene and his uncle's obsession with another beautiful geisha in grim detail. A handful of photographs, apparently taken from a family album, are so badly printed that they appear as little more than black rectangles.

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