The Cuckoo (novel)

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The Cuckoo (不如帰, Hototogisu) is a renowned Japanese novel published by author Kenjirō Tokutomi (Rōka Tokutomi) in serialized form between 1898 and 1899.[1]


The Cuckoo explores the theme of a marriage coming to grief in which both husband and wife belong to the privileged class. Namiko is the daughter of a general. Takeo is a Naval officer, son of a baron now deceased. At first, they are happily married. Then three sources of unhappiness ruin it all. The first is Taneo, Takeo's cousin and Namiko's rejected suitor. Then there is the wicked mother-in-law. Finally, Namiko contracts tuberculosis.

Along with those sources of woe, Roka deals in conflicting values, traditional and modern. Takeo is torn between the absolutism of the family and individual moral authenticity. His mother urges him to divorce Namiko, whose illness prevents her from having children. Even though it means the end of his lineage, he refuses to take a course of action he considers inhumane and unethical. Takeo's choice is dramatically enhanced by the outbreak of war. He is called up for active duty, leaving Namiko unprotected. His mother, encouraged by the vengeful Taneo, takes matters into her own hands. She in effect dissolves her son's marriage by sending her wife back into her family. Namiko soon dies in despair. As Namiko lies dying, an old woman brings her a copy of the Christian Bible, which they discuss.

Two men in uniform meet and form a bond based on their love of Namiko. One is her father, the other, her husband. They meet at Namiko's tomb. The general assures his son-in-law that her death does not affect his feelings for the husband, who would have protected her if he could.


  1. ^ Ito, Ken K. (2008). An age of melodrama : family, gender, and social hierarchy in the turn-of-the-century Japanese novel. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. pp. 46–85. ISBN 9780804757775.

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