"There was something far from ordinary in all this, Shimamura told himself."
Here's what I do know...Shimamura is a well-to-do Tokyo resident likes to go to Japan's snow country (in the western part of the main island) for a winter getaway. The story is set in the 1930s. On the visit at the beginning of the story, he sees a girl Yoko on the train, who is looking after an ailing man. (Who is he? We eventually learn his name--Yukio--but not much else.) They get off at his stop.
Once established in his hotel, Shimamura calls for a geisha. The maid in the hotel says that due to various parties in town, none of the town's geishas are available but that there is a part-time geisha who might be available. The introduction (by the translator Edward Seidenstecker) tells me geishas in small resort towns work more generally as prostitutes than even geishas in the city. The part-time geisha is Komako; Shimamura is interested in her, but not at first to sleep with her, because she seems too pure to be a geisha in that sense.
A relationship develops between the two of them. We see at least two examples of geishas who found rich patrons who were going to set the girls up for life; both examples fail, but no doubt Komako has hopes.
Shimamura comes and goes between this resort town and his urban home. Komako is eager and hopeful for his returns. We eventually learn, perhaps unsurprisingly, Shimamura has a wife in town.
Shimamura eventually learns of the existence of a former triangle of some sort between Komako, Yoko, and Yukio; he never learns the exact nature of it, and we don't either. Yukio eventually dies of tuberculosis; Komako feigns to not care, but we don't believe her. Shimamura is also attracted to Yoko, making Komako and Yoko (possibly) doubly rivals.
The ending is especially ambiguous; there's a fire, but we're not meant to know what happens to the principals, so I can't tell you...
I think if I had more experience with Japanese novels and culture, I could probably read between the lines a bit better, but I am quite convinced (and the introduction assures me I am not wrong) that the novel is meant to be mysterious. It is, quite successfully, I think. How well can you ever know somebody else? And yet I definitely feel that these people are there, that they have their mysteries they aren't telling and may not know themselves.
Most of Snow Country appeared in serialized form in the 1930s; a final section was added in 1947 and it appeared then in book form. Kawabata went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1968.
this sounds really familiar; i might have read it umpteen years ago... i must have liked it because the ending rings a bell also... Japanese lit is quite illusive, some of it having a Zen-like quality, i've found...ReplyDelete
Zen-like makes complete sense. I liked it and since we've got more around the house, I'm likely to try a few more in the near future.Delete
Your review has made this very alluring and I definitely want to read it. Hope I get a copy of it. thanks.ReplyDelete
Good luck finding it! I thought it was good one.Delete
Very interesting. This will be the next Japanese book I read, I think. It fits well with my recent wandering around in The Makioka Sisters. Opposite aesthetic principles, maybe.ReplyDelete
I saw your review of The Makioka Sisters. It sounds different but with some similarities, too. The Makioka Sisters has a much more maximalist aesthetic: describing things, length, a broader canvas of characters. But at the same time, there seems to be so much implied, a willingness to write only at the margins of the big events.Delete
I really wish I gotten organized and got a copy of The Makioka Sisters to read along, but oh, well, it's still out there...
Seidensticker writes Snow Country is a kind of haiku novel, and it's true that things that are most likely to get described in something like fullness are elements of nature.
The fragmented composition and serialization of this novel is itself pretty unusual. No surprise an unusual text is the result.Delete
I was unclear but curious from the introduction how unusual that was. Serializing isn't that strange necessarily, but I don't know about Japan. Was it composed normally until the last chapter? I don't know what homelife was like in Japan in 1937 (when it's coming out). The war is started for Japan but how much is it pinching in the home islands? There's some puzzles in it's composition, but Seidensticker also says it's his masterpiece. Do have any sense about writing in that period from what you read?Delete
I'm going by the Wiki, down at "Writing Process." Seven chapters in five different journals, just to start, and then the whole process takes twelve years. Not normal serialization.Delete
My understanding is that the war in China was quite distant for ordinary Japanese people.
I don't always love ambiguity in books; it depends on the writing. I think this one would just frustrate me.ReplyDelete
The ending especially is ambiguous. I don't mind and sometimes (in this case, for me) that even feels life-like, but I wouldn't always want to read books like that by any means. Sometimes you just want a book that ends with a nice satisfying marriage or the murder solution. And if it includes both, that's even better!Delete
I read this book last year. It felt like the story was being told from an emotionally distant place. I love the ambiguity, but I felt like I was far from the characters.ReplyDelete
You really are a good ways from the characters. It really does depend on how you feel about that. I liked it, because I did feel the characters were real, which (as I think about it...) would be more my test that if I feel close to them. But then sometimes I like to feel like I really know the character, and you don't with this book.Delete
I love ambiguity in novels, though I wonder too about being able to read between the lines as a reader who is not Japanese. It is weird how this book synchronicity works but this is the second time I've heard about this novel in the space of two days!ReplyDelete
I'm pretty convinced most of the ambiguity is in the book by design and not in my ignorance, butDelete
maybe not! It did make me want to read some more of his, and that way maybe I can get a better sense.
I didn't quite get it read in time for the Japanese lIterature challenge but that's been going on so that may explain why it's in the air.
Hunh, I never thought about such short works being serialized. And, yet, it some ways that would make more sense! I'm not sure if I've read this one - I get Kawabata's books confused - but it sounds like a good read for these strange times (for its style, rather than content).ReplyDelete
The style does feel timely, even more modern than the book is, which is not that old.Delete
I scarcely know Kawabata. I see I'm going to have to fix that. The Other Reader went through a Kawabata phase at one point before we were an item, so I have a bunch available.