Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Beauty and Sadness - Yasunari Kawabata

"This is Oki." He waited. "It's Oki. Oki Toshio."
"Yes. It's been such a long time." She spoke with the soft Kyoto drawl.
He was not sure how to begin, so he went on quickly to avoid embarrassing her, as if he were calling on impulse.
"I came to hear the New Year's Eve bells in Kyoto."
"The bells?"
"Won't you listen to them with me?"
She made no reply, even when he repeated his question. Probably she was too surprised to know what to say.
"Did you come alone?" she asked, after a long pause.
"Yes. Yes, I'm alone."
Again Otoko was silent...

Twenty four years since their last meeting. Oki was 30 then, and Otoko was only 15. A Love affair, went astray, after she conceived and delivered a dead child. He was married then and was living with his wife. They separated, giving a life time of horrible memories to Otoko. The baby she delivered died at child birth, a failed suicide attempt and a few years at the mental asylum. But she survived all and is now stay at Kyoto, as successful painter and artist. Otoko is a successful writer, lives with his wife and son. His most famous book has been the story of his love affair with Otoko, which sold millions of copies, soared his popularity, while drifting Otoko into obscurity, when her character was talked about.

The rendezvous did not go well with every one. Kieko Sakami, young protege of Otoko, her lover , her accomplice, who stays with Otoko, seems to be jealous and does not hide her unhappiness over the new spark triggered in her teacher's life. She did take it to her heart and  promised to take revenge on Oki, for his abandoning of Otoko. In a clever manipulation and various duals (with Oki and later his son) she had her way, managing to lure Oki's son into her trap and bringing him to his death.

Kawabata has a simple way of story telling, stacking various layers of human subtleties. The revenge  itself  is not one sided. One can infer his own versions from which angle he intend to approach.  Kieko is jealous of Otoki's continued love of Oki, Fumiko ( Oki's wife) is jelous on Otoko, Otoko herself is jealous of her protege's ability to get both father and the son under her spell ( Keiko even had stayed with the writer in a hotel room for a night).  Oki's son, despite his intelligence and positive outlook, realising the danger he is getting into, seems to have taken the path that has been paved by the manipulator. The clever twists and turns in the hands of a master story teller is not enough to lift this book to something of a literary achievement..

This is one of the last novels of Kawabata, whose Snow Country and , thousand cranes have been some of my favorite books. However, this short novel did not have the same impact. The book has the signature Kawabata style,lyrical writing, brilliant dialogues and the initial parts of the book was very good. But it soon, degraded to a mediocre revenge story of a possessive lover. A short novel, failed to create the profound impact. While most characters have their own identity, most remain short lived without blooming into one that stand out. The smart craft works, and intelligent writing alone do not lift this into a good piece of literature. At many places, this reminded me of the "Quicksand" of Tanizaki, which again failed to impress me.

Beauty and Sadness  (1964 )

Yasunari Kawabata ( translated from Japanese by Howard S. Hibbett 1975)

139 Pages

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