Sunday, September 14, 2008

Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata

Title: Snow Country
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
Date Finished: Sept 13, 2008 #53
Pages: 142
Rating: 3.5/5

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:

Passionate affair
In the Japan Snow Country
Heartbreak is fated.


CJ said...

It really is a beautiful read, isn't it? And it makes me want to visit the snow country in Japan... in spite of the fact that I live in the US version of snow country!

I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Amy said...

I read this book a few years ago and also enjoyed it. I also love Japanese lit. ;)

Corinne said...

Lovely review friend. AND, thanks for the haiku link, I'm totally playing :)

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*CJ - Ha! It's going to be getting cold up your way soon, eh? Thanks for the suggestion for this one! It was a great experience.

*Amy - I'm just now getting into Japanese literature--can't believe I haven't read anything until now. Do you have any suggestions? I have Kafka on the Shore on my list and am looking forward to that one.

*Corinne - :) Thanks! I hope you can pop by fyrefly's site--there are some pretty funny haikus up there. Plus $20 gift card?!?! How can you pass that up? I guess I should post my haiku here as well.

Melody said...

I don't read a lot of Japanese lit, but some of them are really good! I want to read Out because I've read lots of great reviews about it. And Memoirs of a Geisha is fantastic! I wasn't disappointed with the movie version too. :)

Debi said...

Oh Trish, I love your haiku! Seriously, I do! And you've left me quite intrigued about this book. I love haiku and the idea of somehow using that feel in a novel fascinates me. Lovely review!

Anonymous said...

Great review. I love Japanese literature, and haven't read this one yet. I've added it to my list. Also, I like your haiku. Hope you win!

Bookphilia said...

If you enjoyed this, you might also check out Junichiro Tanizaki. :)

Anonymous said...

I second Dreamqueen's suggestion - I love Tanizaki. I think you might enjoy Seven Japanese Tales, great short stories.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Melody - Memoirs was my first real taste of Japanese culture and I really enjoyed it, too. I've been hearing so much about Out lately that it is on my radar as well!

*Debi - I don't know enough about the haiku to really see it in the novel, but the book does have a very lyrical and poetic feel.

*Anna - Haha--thanks. :) Have you made it over to Fyrefly's to submit your haiku? I hope you join in the fun!

*DreamQueen - I haven't heard of that one! Thanks for the suggestion.

*Verbivore - Thanks for the suggestions! I know so little about Japanese literature that I'm having a lot of fun with the learning experience. I'll be sure to check those out.

Thoughts of Joy said...

I LOVED Memoirs of a Geisha. I read it several years back while on vacation in California. We stumbled upon a museum that had a special focus (for the month) on Geishas! They even had Geishas (well, they looked like the real thing) talk about some specifics, then answer question after question. It was fascinating! It couldn't have been better timing. I was also fascinated by everything displayed - I could have stayed there all day. :)

Ana S. said...

Japanese culture is fascinating, isn't it? Getting glimpses of it is one of the best things about reading Japanese literature.

This sounds like a sad but beautiful book. I will definitely pick it up sometime.

Terri B. said...

I have a fairly modest experience with Japanese lit, but there is something about it that is different and really appeals to me. I'll probably need to read more of it before I'm able to verbalize what it is that draws me. Thank you for the recommend of this book. I've added it to my list.

tanabata said...

I want to read this one again. I think I wasn't in quite the right mood when I read it. I liked it but think I would get much more out of it with a second reading.
I also second the suggestion of Junichiro Tanizaki. One of my favourite Japanese reads is his 'The Makioka Sisters'.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Joy - I really liked Memoirs of a Geisha as well. The exhibit you went to sounds really interesting--it is definitely a culture I would love to learn more about.

*Nymeth - It is! I'm so glad for this Japanese challenge so that I can learn more about the country and culture.

*Terri - I haven't read enough to know, but I'm enjoying my experience so far. Are there any reads you would recommend?

*Tanabata - I could definitely get more out of this book with a second reading of it. I think I rushed through it a little too quickly, but I still really appreciated it. Thanks for the suggestion--that definitely gives me a starting place for Tanizaki.

Serena said...

great review. i will have to check out this book myself.

Laura said...

1. I'm trying to be a statistic. Do I show up anywhere?

2. Nice haiku! I hope you win! :)

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Serena - Thanks for popping by! I hope you enjoy the book.

*Laura: 1. Somewhere, but I'm not really sure. I'm guessing you came via google reader or direct because your blog doesn't show up. It's scary--*I* can become a stalker now of the people who stalk me!!! :)
2. Thanks. Doing this made me realize that I probably could have done it for Maggie's contest if I hadn't been such a whiney baby.

Anonymous said...

Nabokov is a good writer.

I must check this out. And your haiku is good. Have you ever read my poetry?

Yes, I do have a poetry blog where I write almost daily. If you are interested, just click on my name to reach there.

Madeleine said...

Hi Trish,

This passage is so well written. I agree with Nat, his books are worth re-reading. I haven't read SNOW COUNTRY but have it on my TBR.

Very nice Haiku!

Ramya said...

i am very intrigued by japanese literature as well.. read norwegian wood this year and i was amazed at the depth of the book! This one seems like another book i definitely want to read!:)

i did read a couple of books about the geishas.. but thats like a completely different kind, right?:)

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Gautami - I'll have to check it out sometime. :) I have to admit I am not a regular reader of poetry--not since finishing school anyway.

*Madeleine - I'll have to check out some of his other books sometime! I had never heard of Kawabata before the Japanese challenge, but I'm glad for the exposure!

*Ramya - Well, geishas, I think, are very Japanese! Do you have any good ones that you'd recommend? I haven't heard of Norwegian Wood, but I'll definitely put it on my list of books to check out!

Bellezza said...

I've been wanting to read Snow Country for quite some time. I love stories that are of a romantic nature, and a difficult one at that. (I'm not quite sure why...) I caught the haiku comment on summarizing a book too late, but ironically enough I'm running a haiku contest on my blog. I hope you'll submit another~you're such a good writer.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Bellezza - I did see the contest and the wheels have been turning in head head to come up with another one. :) I've been meaning to cross-post this review on your site anyway, and this is the perfect reminder. Thanks for hosting such a great challenge! I'm glad I was able to join this time around.