Author: Yasunari Kawabata, 1948, 1952. Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker, 1956, 1958. Introduction by Kazuo Ishiguro, 1986.
Genre: Period Fiction. Modern Classic. Japanese Literature.
Other Details: Paperback. 204 pages.
This book presents English translations of two short novels by the1968 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Snow Mountain is a nuanced love story involving a discouraged urbanite (Shimamura) and a rural geisha (Komako). Shimamura is tired of the bustling city. He takes the train through the snow to the mountains of the west coast of Japan, to meet with a geisha he believes he loves. Beautiful and innocent, Komako is tightly bound by the rules of a rural geisha, and lives a life of servitude and seclusion that is alien to Shimamura, and their love offers no freedom to either of them.
Thousand Cranes is another love story. This melancholy tale uses the classical tea ceremony as a background for the story of a young man's relationships to two women, his father's former mistress and her daughter - synopsis from Goodreads.
The two novels contained within are exquisitely written and embody the Japanese ideal within art and literature of mono no aware, the beauty of sadness. There is a delicate melancholy about them. In his Introduction Kazuo Ishiguro likens Yasunari Kawabata writing to poetry requiring a close reading and I would agree with that. It is writing that needs to be read slowly allowing the words to flow over you and paint a picture. I was fascinated by Zen Buddhism when I was young and especially by the tea ceremony, which features in Thousand Cranes.
When Kawabata was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 it was on the basis of three novels. Snow Country and Thousand Cranes were two of those novels and I hope to read the third in due course.
The Master of Go is a fictionalised chronicle of a famous 1938 Go match played between a revered and heretofore invincible Master and a younger and more modern challenger. Kawabata initially published this in a serialised form in 1951 and then as a novel in 1954. Its translator felt that the six month long game was symbolic of the struggle between the traditions of imperial Japan and the onslaught of the twentieth century and also reflected aspects of Japan's defeat in WWII, something that had a profound effect upon Kawabata.
I rarely abandon books but in this case it was not due to any issue on the part of the author but my own shortcomings as my inability to understand how Go is played, despite the details provided in the Introduction, left me floundering. So I felt it best to put this aside.