A Beautiful Novel of Japan

February 14, 2007

Snow Country is an unusual love story that takes place in an unusual region of Japan. Surprisingly, to me at least, western Japan is among the snowiest regions on Earth. This area provides the setting for a story that will be difficult to forget, and will send me to the bookstore for more.

Kambara, by Utagawa Hiroshige

Aside from the many moments of beauty in this novel, this novel had a different feeling for me. I noticed that although the novel took place in a country I have never seen, I did not feel like the author was explaining anything to me. I simple experienced a new culture and a very different time and place. Yusunari Kawabata just set the scene and told the story. He did not write with any distinct effort at explanation. It may be common, but I will have to pay attention to other translated novels in the future to see if I get that same feeling.

There is an interesting scene in the novel in which Komako, a geisha and one of the main characters, describes her writing habits to Shimamura, the other main character-

“You keep a diary?”
“It is always fun to read an old diary. But I don’t hide anything when I write in my diary, and sometimes I’m ashamed to look at it myself.”
….”And you kept a diary all this time?”
“Yes. The year I was sixteen and this year have been the best. I write in my diary when I am home from a party and ready for bed, and when I read it over I can see the places where I’ve gone to sleep writing… But I don’t write every day. Some days I miss. Way off here in the mountains, every party is the same. This year I couldn’t find anything except a diary with a new day on each page. It was a mistake. When I start writing, I want to write on and on.”

Yasunari Kawabata’s first years were filled with tragedy. His father died when he was just 2. He mother died at age 3, leaving him an orphan. At 7, his grandmother died, as well as his sister the year he turned 9. He moved into a middle-school dormatory at age 15 when his grandfather died. His studies of literature and his writing began shortly after. Hardly the typical childhood for a Novel prize winner for literature. Kawabata took his own life in 1972, two years after the suicide of another famous writer, Yukio Mishima.
Yasunari Kawabata


6 Responses to “A Beautiful Novel of Japan”

  1. ggwfung Says:

    those Japanese writers all seem to have had intriguing lives. Extreme eccentricity from a westerners point of view (not that we haven’t had our share of wacky writers – ee cummings comes to mind)

    I especially like the works of Murakami. An exceptional use of the magic realism technique.


  2. imani Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Kawabata is a name that’s mentioned occasionally but this is the first time I’ve felt any serious urge to acquire one of his novels.

    I haven’t read any Japanese authors besides Murakami Haruki but I do own copies of Rashomon and Other Stories by Akutagawa and Woman in the Dunes by Abe Kobo. I saw the film adaptation for it last year.

  3. w Says:

    May I please also recommend Kawabata’s Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, as well as Akira Yoshimura’s On Parole and the forthcoming The Gift of Numbers by Yoko Ogawa (here’s her story from The New Yorker, “Pregnancy Diary,” and an interview).

  4. jenclair Says:

    This novel is going on my list. I have a book of Hiroshige’s art; my favorites are the snow scenes, but this beautiful illustration isn’t included.

  5. Dorothy W. Says:

    This sounds interesting. I read a collection of Kawabata stories a while back and enjoyed it.

  6. Brad Says:

    ggwfung – The only Murakami I have read is Sputnik Sweetheart. I enjoyed that and plan to read more.

    Imani – I had not heard of Woman in the Dunes before, but I just looked on amazon, and it looks interesting.

    w – Thank you for the recommendations. Palm-of-the-Hand Stories sounds like a good next choice for Kawabata.

    jenclair – When I saw the snow scene on the book cover, I had to search the Internet to find more prints. I agree that the pictures are beautiful.

    Dorothy – I’m glad it was interesting even with all the typos. I need to take the time for a little pre-publish editing. 🙂

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