Friday, October 25, 2013

Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata

A couple of weeks back, I read one of his later works which did not impress me greatly. I remember the lasting impressions his other books ( Snow Country, Thousand Cranes, House of sleeping beauties) on me when I read them. That was a long long ago, and I started wondering why did that make such a lasting impact on me. One grow as a reader over the years and the tastes get refined and somewhat polished. While this seems to be a progression as a reader, on the negative side it prevents you from the enjoyment and entertainment you derive out of a work of literature.  It was thus, I decided to go back to one of his works again to see if I over rate his works earlier. Now that I read the book again, I am quite happy and relieved ( ! ), and  my previous impression is now reinstated. Not only I loved the second read, but it also gave me a lot more insight to the writer and his style.

Shimamura, a wealthy loner travels back to the west coast of Japan, to the small hot spring town. A small love affair, or his closeness to the geisha brought him back to this place within an year. As he takes the train back to the snow country, to revive himself, from his idle life. His previous acquaintance, Komako is assigned to him again as the geisha to be his companion during his stay. As the familiarity and companionship grew, Shimamura realises his inability to love her. The affair is destined to fail even before it began. He is a wealthy well to do man, and she is a geisha, expected to entertain guest who comes to the inn for a few days. The closure they become by togetherness the wider  was the separation of the mind. From Komako's point the submission was complete, unconditional and possessive.  Shimamura, wasn't committal, but was the one with fatherly tenderness. Over the days of his stay, he was rather attracted with the young protege of Komako, beautiful Yoko, who takes care of the sick man who probably is the fiancee of Komako, a topic she refuse to divulge in. Even here, despite her request to rescue her from this hell and take her to Tokyo, he is not able to decide. In a rather ambiguous ending, which we find in many other stories of Kawabata, this novel also ends in a disaster. Its rather the end of the affair, the end of his ability to stay afloat in his dreamy days( interesting metaphor of milky way is deployed by Kawabata). We are not to know whether Yoko is dead or alive, but we are aware that for Shimamura both Komoko and Yoko are dead as he was pushed aside and was made to stand as a impotent witness to the whole action that takes place.

The book has a strong connect with the local culture and the heritage. Some of which is not very clear to me and I'm not sure if some of the references ( not directly though) are incomprehensible to me ( or a bit lost in translation). The rich imagery, the vivid landscape, the amusing conversations and the rich traditional set up of the inn gives a fantastic background to the story.  His lyrical writing, the short sentences ( a haiku in prose as some critics call it ) of heavily loaded conversations, rich cultural undertone and the control over the language makes this a wonderful wonderful read. The complex relationships with a man at the center and two women fighting it out in subtle maneuvers . Komako is all vocal and noisy around Simamura, who bores him after a while. Yoko on the other hand appears in all beauty and purity, uncorrupted and unpretentious.  Komako is pushed to doing the job of geisha to support many who depends on her - her ailing music teacher, her sick friend. 

Snow country is one of the greatest work of the Japanese Master and a shining example  from Japanese literature. Its relevance , its style , its ambience of rich culture and tradition, its intrinsic strength derived through those beautiful imagery.  Simple and flowing narrative which appears straight forward, hidden inside with such depth of human conditions and social complexities.  The landscape and nature plays a big part in the tale. The plot and story is not very important, but the characterisation the interplay between them and the descriptive passages and the silences that build up the effect in the whole narration. Master piece !

Snow Country (1952 )

Yasunari Kawabata ( translated from Japanese by Edward G Siedensticker 1956)

Penguin Classics

188 Pages
 Japanese Literature, Wiki, Blog Critics

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