We're making our way through Juinichon Tanizaki's Makioka Sisters, and it's the kind of thing you often hope for in a novel--a big, sprawling alternate universe with lots of characters and human conflicts, the kind of thing you can kind of dive into and sink. It occurs to me (though I suppose a hundred thousand graduate students noted it first) that there is a whole genre of these family sagas, or perhaps better decaying family sagas offering the same sort of capacious envelopment. I'd want to include Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and Faulkner's Sound and Fury (with other supporting chunks of the Yokanapatapah Yarn)--but others less challenging and more relaxed: Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, surely, and what may be Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks. Makioka extends the search beyond Europe itself; so also does Naguib Mahfouz' Cairo Trilogy (Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet is another kettle of Mediterranean marine fare). By a stretch I might be permitted to include Chekhov's Cherry Orchard, which accomplishes the great slack-wire act of reducing it all to a single evening at the theatre. There must be others; I'm just not remember now, or maybe I simply haven't read them.
One side note--again, I suppose there are 100 dissertations--is the prominence of the servant. Dilsey in Faulkner is the star of the show; Françoise in Proust is a major presence. O-haru in Makioka is less proment, but she's certainly a part of the story. And, of course, Firs in Cherry Orchard--the presence, if not exactly the voice, of a new Russia struggling to be born.
One eyebrow-raising side issue: Makioka is described as having been written between 1943 and 1948. Just exactly how Tanizaki brought it off--I mean, in the disaster and renewal of World War II--is more than I can fathom.