As I delve into my first experience with Japanese literature, I find myself becoming entranced by the culture–luckily I’ve got a few other books on my shelf so I can continue to learn more. I can’t believe I haven’t read any Japanese lit before now! I did read Memoirs of a Geisha and really enjoyed it, but it just isn’t the same experience.
Snow Country is at the same time beautiful and lonely written in lyrical prose reminiscent of a haiku. In the introduction, the translator (Edward G. Seidensticker) notes, “The haiku manner presents a great challenge to the novelist. The manner is notable for its terseness and austerity, so that his novel must rather be like a series of brief flashes in a void. In Snow Country Kawabata has chosen a theme that makes a meeting between haiku and the novel possible” (7).
The story is about a man, Shimamura, from Tokyo who travels to the isolated snow country and there meets Komako, a beautiful and young geisha. After a reluctant start, the two strike up a friendship that evolves into a love affair. But as the novel and their affair progress, it becomes clear that the two can never really fully give each other to one another. Their lives–he a big city dilettante and she a country geisha–are quite incompatible.
This is a slow novel with much focus on the characters and their interaction with one another. There are a few moments of tension–usually involving Komako’s rival Yoko–but other than that this book for me was more about beauty of the words on the page (yes, unfortunately I can’t read Japanese, so it is a translation). I read this one rather quickly and mostly before bed when I was tired, so I am sure that I missed a lot of the symbolism. Also, especially at the beginning of the novel, there were a lot of flashbacks and often I had to re-read to figure out when the action was taking place. The ending to me came out of nowhere, but Seidensticker insists in his introduction that it fits perfectly. That’s why he’s the expert. ;) But I think this passage aptly portrays the feeling of the novel:
“Now that he knew Yoko was in the house, he felt strangely reluctant to call Komako. He was conscious of an emptiness that made him see Komako’s life as beautiful but wasted, even though he himself was the object of her love; and yet the woman’s existence, her straining to live, came touching him like naked skin. He pitied her, and he pitied himself” (106).
Kawabata wrote this in several segments from 1937-1948. In 1968 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
CJ from My Year of Reading Seriously initially brought this book to my attention last year when she read it for the challenge–she provides some really beautiful quotes from the book and I immediately put it on my amazon wish list. (Let me know if you’ve reviewed it and I’ll add it to the list–my Google reader says she’s it, but poor reader is usually wrong)
**By the way, speaking of haikus, Fyrefly is giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card for a haiku of your recent reads in honor of BBAW. Check it out at Fyrefly’s Book Blog.
So I’m an amateur, but this is what I came up with:
In the Japan Snow Country
Heartbreak is fated.