The Wild Goose
By Mori Ōgai
Translated with introduction by Burton Watson
Published by the Center for Japanese Studies
University of Michigan
Copyright © 1995
“The Wild Goose,” written between 1911-1913, is a work of fiction loosely based on Ōgai’s personal experiences. This novella is a story of romance and sorrow that is slightly odd and understated, but utterly entrancing.
Set in Tokyo in the 1880’s, Suezo, a man with an infamous career, has grown tired of his wife. So he decides to have a mistress. It is arranged for Otama be that mistress. Otama is a good natured young woman of simple beauty and charm. Her widower father wants to make up for his mistakes in turning down previous marriage offers by making sure that she is taken care of, and Otama want to make sure that her father who is old and poor will be taken care of as well. When Otama finds out what Suezo’s career is, she feels betrayed and wants out of her situation badly but she does not want her father to lose his life of repose. She sorely wishes she had someone to talk to and help her. Okada, a medical student, becomes the object of her affection and a symbol of the normal life she longs for. Theirs is a limited relationship that is based on the tip of a hat and friendly smiles. But time and prudence never seems to be on their side.
Most of this novella revolves around Otama. I found her character to be interesting in that you feel the stages that she progresses through in dealing with her predicament. At first trying to make the best of it but upon learning of Suezo’s career it turns to internal shame, then loathing him, and then seemingly being resigned. Okada’s daily walk which takes him by her house is the only thing that gives her hope.
If you have an interest in Japanese history/culture, if you enjoy works in translation, or if you like tragic stories of unrequited love this short novel is worth the read.