Monday, 12 August 2019

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (1943 - 1948)

Set in Japan on the eve of World War II, The Makioka Sisters has been described as the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century. Not having read many Japanese novels I’m not in a position to agree or disagree with that observation, but it is certainly a compelling and poignant picture of an upper-class Japanese society in decline.

The four Makioka sisters belong to an aristocratic family whose parents are no longer alive. The two eldest, Tsuruko and Sachicko are married and Tsuruko’s husband, Tatsuo, has taken on the Makioka family name and with that responsibility for the unmarried sisters.
Yukiko and Taeko prefer living with Sachicko and her husband in Osaka while the eldest sister and her family make their home in the ‘main house’ in Tokyo, which causes tension at times.

Yukiko, the third daughter, has turned down numerous marriage proposals over the years and the family has acquired a reputation for being too haughty. With the family fortunes in decline and Yukiko now in her early thirties, their expectations are beginning to be more realistic.

‘It was strange that whenever talk came up of a husband for Yukiko, some really insurmountable difficulty always presented itself. Yukiko seemed to be unmarriageable, and Tsuruko found it hard to shrug off as only a superstition the belief that women born in the Year of the Ram had trouble finding husbands.’

The youngest sister, Taeko, is rebellious and modern in her views but has to wait until Yukiko is married before she can entertain the idea of marriage herself. Meanwhile, she doesn’t let that stop her from throwing herself into scandalous situations.
Up until the end of World War II, Japanese men and women were introduced to each via a matchmaker. This could be a relative or a another third party who arranged a ‘miai’ where the two potential spouses met over a formal meal in the company of some family members and the matchmaker. They were also given the opportunity to spend some time conversing on their own.
The two parties investigated each other’s backgrounds using a detective agency to check there were no skeletons in the closets or problems such as insanity or hereditary issues in the family, so the Makioka’s were always afraid that Taeko’s indiscretions might surface and put an end to negotiations.

This book is a quiet and delicate immersion in Japanese culture, from cherry blossom festivals and kabuki theatre, to family traditions and cultural beliefs.

Kabuki Theatre
Embed from Getty Images

The author started writing the story as a series during World War II and the events of The Makioka Sisters take place between 1936 and 1941 as Japan was building up its military presence in the area.
The Makioka family seem to live in a bubble while their culture is disintegrating around them but from time to time hints about what was going on in the outside world break into the story: ‘the national crisis,’ ‘the China Incident,' and ‘National Spiritual Mobilization,' for example.

The Osaka sisters became quite close to the Stolz family, a German couple and their three children living next door to them, and when the family returned to Germany, letters were exchanged. They reveal some of what was taking place over there in 1941, the attitude of the people to the war, and the false security they felt about the outcome.

‘As you know, there is a shortage of manpower in Germany, and it is very difficult to find a maid...Once I had time to write letters in the evening. Now I must get out a basket of stockings, all with big and little holes in them. In the old days I would have thrown away worn-out stockings, but now we must economise. We must work together to win through, and each of us must do his part, however small it may be. I understand that life is harder in Japan too...
But we must bear the burden. We are both young nations fighting our way up, and it is not easy to win a place in the sun. And yet I do believe that we will win in the end...When we win our victory and everything is normal again, you can visit Germany.'

This is an unusual and very interesting perspective.
The Makioka Sisters is beautifully written and has stood up well in translation into English while retaining an authentic Japanese flavour.
530 pages; would suit an upper high school student studying Modern History, or Ambleside Online Year 11 if you wanted to include a literary book from an Asian perspective in an Australian curriculum.

Linking to 2019 Back to the Classics: A Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Written Narrations

Churchill's The Age of Revolution is one of our history spines for Year 9. It's scheduled in Ambleside Online for that year but we used it in the past for different years of high school depending on what areas we were studying. (High school in Australia includes Years 7 to 12)
This is an unedited written narration which was done this morning after Moozle read the chapter with the same title.

The War of Independence

All my children have had their distinctive ways of writing. Some just stuck to the facts, some  embellished them. Moozle tends to write how she would speak so we get some opinionated comments and words like, 'stupidest,' which I thought she'd made up but it's actually the superlative form of 'stupid.' If I asked her to edit this narration, I'd suggest using a different word but we ran out of time today.

Men, Microscopes, & Living Things was our Biology study for the first half of this year along with  the Sabbath Mood Homeschool Guide. This narration is from the last chapter:

Thursday, 1 August 2019

A 14 Year Old's Commonplace Book

It is very helpful to read with a commonplace book or reading-diary, in which to put down any striking thought in your author, or your own impression of the work, or of any part of it; but not summaries of facts. Such a diary, carefully kept through life, should be exceedingly interesting as containing the intellectual history of the writer; besides, we never forget the book that we have made extracts from, and of which we have taken the trouble to write a short review.

Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason 

I've written about my son's commonplace book (aka 'Reading Diary' or quotations book) here which he started when he was about 15 years of age. Moozle started keeping hers about 18 months ago when she was about 12 and a half.  As I wrote in the post just linked, I wanted these records of their reading to be something they would initiate, but as with many things, I started the ball rolling so to speak and encouraged them to continue.. I listed it as part of their weekly schedule but I basically left it up to them to choose what they wanted to record.
Often they'd read something out to me that they found interesting or amusing and I'd sometimes suggest it would be a good thing to record it. This helped them begin a habit of keeping a diary of favourite passages.
Moozle also keeps a record of scriptures and hymn lyrics in a separate notebook but that's just something she keeps as a sort of devotional diary and isn't a part of her regular lesson work.

Some quotations that have found their way into my 14 year old girl’s Common Place Book lately:

‘Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices.’

‘It is a very silly idea that We has in reading a book you must never ‘skip.’ All sensible people skip freely when they come to a chapter which they find is going to be no use to them.’
(Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis)

She liked this one, being a very fast reader! C.S. Lewis features regularly in her commonplace book. Mere Christianity is scheduled in Ambleside Online year 8 but we used another book for that year so we've added it to Year 9.

‘Lady Penelope looked at Lady Binks with as much regard as Balaam may have cast upon his ass when he discovered its capacity for holding an argument with him.’
(St. Ronan’s Well by Sir Walter Scott)

Moozle has read a number of Sir Walter Scott's books this past year. She has a love/hate relationship with his books but didn't mind this one. Redgauntlet was the best in her opinion.

‘What is worth beginning is worth finishing and what is worth doing is worth doing well.’
(Ourselves by Charlotte Mason)

I'm still reading Ourselves aloud to her. it's been a good book for discussion but I wouldn't say she particularly enjoyed it. She doesn't enjoy green vegetables either but they're a part of her 'eating schedule,' regardless.

‘One of the things I learned during my tenure at Washington is that the civics book picture of government in action is totally inaccurate. The idea that our elected officials take part in a careful decision-making process - monitoring events, reviewing options, responsibly selecting policies - has almost no connection with reality. A more accurate image would be that of a runaway train with the throttle stuck wide open - while the passengers and crew are living it up in the dining car.’
( - William Simon, former U.S. secretary, treasury)

The above quotation is from Uncle Eric Talks About Personal, Career, and Financial Security by Richard J. Maybury. I've scheduled this in place of the Richard Maybury book listed in AO Year 9 for Government & Economics because we already had this book & not the other. It's been a good fit for her this year.

‘I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.'

(From ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, 1874-1963)

We've enjoyed the poetry selections in The Art of Poetry curriculum from Classical Academic Press, as well as the lessons. I reviewed it here.

‘...the painters always followed the full dinner pail. As soon as they got their chance, the musicians did likewise. They tucked their unpolished cantatas and sonatas under their arms. They left their unpaid bills behind them. They took the road that led to the north. For that was where the pot of gold awaited them at the end of the rainbow of their high C’s and their unlimited hope and ambitions. ‘ (The Arts by Hendrick Willem Van Loon)

Mr. Van Loon can be quite sarcastic at times...

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1932)

Have His Carcase is the second book by D. L. Sayers to feature Harriet Vane who was first introduced in Strong Poison (1930) when Lord Peter Wimsey decides she is not guilty of a murder charge and sets out to prove it.
I’ve been filling in the gaps of my Sayers’ reading lately and Have His Carcase was one of the books I decided to read. It’s been quite a few years since I read Strong Poison and I don’t remember a great deal of it so I probably should have read that again before this one. I do remember quite a bit of Gaudy Night which comes after Have His Carcase, though.

Harriet Vane, the detective novelist, has just been acquitted of murder and embarks on a walking tour along the south-west coast of England.

'The best remedy for a bruised heart is not as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest hard work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.'

While on a deserted beach she discovers the body of a young man whose throat had been slashed and after some sleuthing she heads to the next town to report her findings. During this time the tide comes in and the corpse disappears. Once again Harriet Vane is drawn into the investigation of a murder where she is a possible suspect.

Lord Peter Wimsey gets wind of the situation and turns up at the hotel where she is lodged. Wimsey is still pursuing Harriet and much of the banter between them is just delicious. Harriet is having breakfast when he arrives on the scene:

‘Good morning, Sherlock. Where is the dressing gown? How many pipes of shag have you consumed? The hypodermic is on the dressing-room table.’

‘How in the world,’ demanded Harriet, ‘did you get here?’

‘Car,’ said Lord Peter, briefly. ‘Have they produced the body?’

‘Who told you about the body?’

‘I nosed it from afar. Where the Carcase is, there shall be eagles gathered together. May I join you over the bacon-and-eggs?’

‘By all means,’ said Harriet. ‘Where did you come from?’

‘From London - like a bird that hears the call of its mate.’

‘I didn’t -‘ began Harriet.

‘I didn’t mean you. I meant the corpse. But still, talking of mates, will you marry me?’

Harriet is attracted to Wimsey but complicating their relationship is the offence she feels at Wimsey’s patronage towards her. She resents the gratitude she owes him for getting her out of a death sentence. His influence protects her from the hostility of men like Inspector Umpelty and the sensationalist reporter of the Morning Star, Salcolme Hardy, and she is bitterly distressed about this.

Wimsey had been building cautiously building a ‘delicate structure of confidence’ between this ‘scathed and embittered woman and himself’ but this new situation threatened to annihilate what he had built.

'You think you can sit up there all day like King Cophetua being noble and generous and expecting people to be brought to your feet...You think if you go on long enough I ought to be touched and softened...I suppose every man thinks he’s only got to go on being superior and any woman will come tumbling into his arms.'

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1884)

Wimsey’s reply to this outburst reveals his heart and his often comic behaviour when he’s around her. According to him he’d have a better chance if he was, ‘deaf, blind, maimed, starving, drunken or dissolute,’ so that she could have the fun of being magnanimous!
He treats his deepest feelings in a comic way to save himself the pain of her being disgusted by them. Poor Peter.

This tussle between Harriet and Wimsey is cleverly portrayed. Amusing but at the same time poignant. As usual, Sayers' plot is clever and inventive; full of connections and rabbit trails. A chapter is basically devoted to the pair working on a cipher that the deceased had used in some letters he wrote, but it went over my head. Puzzles are not my strong point.
I was a little disappointed with the ending to this book. The crime was solved but the evidence was such that a jury would likely reject it so it was left hanging, so to speak. Apart from that, this was an enjoyable and intelligent read.

Moozle has just started reading some of Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books and read this after me. (I think some of her books are more suitable for older readers but this one was O.K.) She really enjoys them and said that she ‘gets’ many of the literature allusions & ramblings because of all the literature she’s read over the years such as mythology & Shakespeare, plus bits of Latin and French, both of which she’s been studying. I have to credit Ambleside Online for introducing us to a lot of that goodness.

These are the Sayers’ books I’ve read & written about:

Whose Body?
Clouds of Witness
Unnatural Death
The Five Red Herrings

Regarding King Cohetua, see here & also this blog.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Nature Notebook: Fungi Study

We've had ideal conditions for a study of fungi in the past month and we found some interesting specimens. The green and the black fungi were new to us but we see bracket fungi all the time in our area and the coral fungi pops up now and again.
This is Moozle's nature notebook entry for this past week.

We made some spore prints: turn the cap upside down so its gills sit on top of some white paper; cover with a glass jar or dish to keep out any draught and leave for about 24 hours.
We were able to confirm the name of one specimen we were unsure of by observing the colour of its imprint.

If you wanted to keep these imprints, the paper should be covered very thinly with egg white or an adhesive gum to hold the spores fast. Moozle just observed and drew them this time.

The new discovery...a friend (thanks Anna M!) suggested this might be Dermocybe austroveneta.


Handbook of Nature Study, First Studies in Plant Life in Australasia, a guide to our local area's flora & fauna and for young children, Mushrooms & Molds by Robert Froman (out of print) is a good 'Let's Read and Find Out Science Book,' with some hands on activities. There's a preview of it here. 
The Wonderland of Nature by Nuri Mass has a good, basic section with some simple pen & ink drawings.

Online resources:

Fungimap & lichenised fungi

Australasian Mycological Society

Australian Fungi - Australian National Herbarium

An Australian Fungi Blog!


If you'd like a crime mystery with your fungi study, The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers centres around a fungi expert whose death was caused when he ingested a bowl of deadly mushrooms! This is the only mystery novel that I've read by Sayers where Lord Peter Wimsey is absent entirely. It's been a while since I've read it but it's probably best for around age 16 years and older.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie (1945)

I've been on a crime spree lately: Dorothy L. Sayers, P.D. James, Ngaio Marsh, and now Agatha Christie.
This is one of Agatha Christie’s books where Poirot and Miss Marple aren’t involved and I’ve tended to enjoy these books more. (See The Man in the Brown Suit, for example.)

A year after Rosemary Barton’s death at an evening party at a high class London restaurant, the six people who were present on the night of her death are gathered together again at the request of her husband, George.
The cause of her death had been put down to suicide but George had reason to believe that this was not the case. On the first anniversary of her death he sets up a similar scenario hoping to bring the cause of her death to light. However, things go horribly awry and another death occurs. Is this a suicide or is there a murderer among them?

Colonel Race, a canny former associate of George’s, becomes involved in the unfolding events and the subsequent investigation, but the actual solution to the mystery is brought about by a most unlikely character.

Sparkling Cyanide shows off Christie’s mastery of misdirection. I really enjoyed this book and was kept in suspense right up to the last few pages. A very satisfying mystery made all the more enjoyable because unlike the last Christie I read, (And Then There Were None) there were a number of very likeable characters in this story that I hoped weren’t murderers!

‘He looked at her with eyes from which the last traces of scales had fallen. A lovely creature with the brains of a hen! He’d been mad - utterly and completely mad. But he was sane again now. And he’d got to get out of this fix. Unless he was careful she’d ruin his whole life.’

‘A wasp was buzzing close at hand. He stared abstractedly. It had got inside a cut glass jampot and as trying to get out.
Like me, he thought, entrapped by sweetness and now - he can’t get out, poor devil.'

I’ve spent some time reading and thinking about the development of the moral imagination so this jumped out at me as I read it:

‘...(She) has the calm practical efficiency that can contemplate and carry out murder, and that perhaps lacks that quality of pity which is essentially a product of imagination.’

I’d never heard of this title, but I have been a late comer to Agatha Christie’s books, so I was pleased that it was an enjoyable read and I’d happily recommend it as a good one to try if you haven’t already read it.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Home Ed Highlights From the Month of June

'I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused - a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love - then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.'

- Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder, 1956

In a similar vein, Charlotte Mason wrote in her book, Home Education, that it's possible to undervalue a child's ability to get knowledge using his senses. Her context was the Kindergarten as a place of education and her concern was that it was an artificially limited environment.
While a kindergarten can provide some exact ideas such as the difference between a rhomboid and a pentagon, or a primary and secondary colour, this is at the expense of much of the real knowledge of the outside world.
Although this sort of training provided by the Kindergarten/Preschool may be valuable, it shouldn't take the place of the wider training of the senses. This is something we can provide as we walk along the way, through our everyday lives.

Every Tuesday I go and pick up my granddaughter and take her to the park for an hour or so then bring her home to our place for the day. It had been raining when I picked her up the other week so we came straight home, but later in the day the weather cleared so Moozle and I took her on a nature walk with us for the first time. I thought she embodied the idea that Rachel Carson expressed above:

 ' is not half so important to know as to feel.' 

We spent a bit of time listening to the creek as it ran over some rocks, which she found quite fascinating; touching wet leaves, and walking along the track obscured at times by overhanging branches weighed down by the recent rain. 

A rare sighting! We'd been hearing unusual bird sounds and then we found out what was making them. If you don't already know, lyrebirds are incredible mimics and imitate other birds as well as trains, chainsaws, and all sorts of other noises. This is the second time we've seen one on our property but we didn't get a great view of it the first time. This time I actually got quite close to it so I could get a decent photo with my phone. It's a very attractive, elegant bird.

Superb Lyrebird, Menura novaehollandiae

One day this month Benj had the morning off so we went for a bush bash. We went along our usual fire-trail walk but then detoured into some more rugged bush that had no track. Just as well he was with us as Moozle and I have no sense of direction and could have ended up anywhere. It was also helpful to have him give us shorter folk a hand up to the higher rocks. 

These two were leading the way and I heard them reciting 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt' as they bashed their way through the bush. 'We can't go under it, we can't go over it. Oh, no! We've got to go through it!'

Hubby, Moozle & I had a road trip over the June long weekend up to Toowoomba in Queensland to see my husband's parents. This photo was looking from the top of The Great Dividing Range, also known as The Eastern Highland or The Eastern Cordillera, Australia's most extensive mountain range and the third longest land-based range in the world. It stretches more than 3,500 kilometres (2,175 miles) from north east Queensland, down the length of the eastern coastline through New South Wales and into Victoria.

Nature Studies in Australia by William Gillies & Robert Hall is a book I've scheduled in Year 9. Moozle generally reads a chapter per week and either narrates after reading or writes a notebook entry. We have a few books by Gillies and they're all very good. This one is a little like an Anna Comstock Handbook of Nature Study for Australians but written more to the student as opposed to the parent.

'Browning would sit quite still in a wood for an hour, and the birds would hop about his feet. Tennyson would spend an afternoon in watching how the lark rose into the air and dropped to the ground. Dr Fabre would sit on a sandy slope for a whole day to watch the ways of the solitary wasps. Nature will not give up her secrets to the man in a hurry.'

The Art of Poetry introduced us to this poem. Some poetry just reaches out and grabs at your heart and this was one that did that to me. It's melancholy and thoughtful and expresses well those things that one can so often take for granted. ''s austere and lonely offices'! What an exquisite way to express this.

Watercolour & pencil by Moozle

Rural New South Wales

'These are a few of my favourite things...' watercolour and ink. Moozle did this for me & it does capture some of my most favourite things. She knows me well.

On Tuesdays we also have the pleasure of the company of this little fellow, my grandson, for a few hours. My daughter-in-law brings him over around midday and today he listened in as I read aloud to Moozle. I think he was trying to work out how to get the book off me and he ended up with it in his hot little hands. As one of his uncles remarked, 'A gentleman and a scholar.'

A highlight and privilege for me at the beginning of June was being one of the speakers at a Home Education seminar hosted by Michelle Morrow from Homeschooling Downunder. A common thread running through each of our talks was the idea of giving our children a broad and generous education; setting their feet in a large room, as Charlotte Mason so aptly put it and as Michelle said, not just giving them 'meat & potatoes.' There are videos of the talks available here.
It was so good to be a part of this and to meet such a wide variety of mothers, the common denominator being a love for their children and a desire to teach them well. A very enjoyable and fun day! I think Michelle is planning another one for next year so look out for it.

And now for something completely different...just joking, of course. We have a family WhatsApp account and this is the type of thing besides photos and smart comments that get posted there.