Friday, January 31, 2014

Thousand Cranes - Yasunari Kawabata

Its time to read Kawabata again, revisit all those previously read works again to reiterate my belief and to refresh the memories. I did read snow country last month, and now "thousand cranes". The rest of the works will be in line for a re-read. I carry a fond memory of reading Kawabata ages ago. The entire process of re-reading begun after "Beauty and Sadness", which to me was very ordinary. As a reader you grow over the years and the taste become more polished or finer and many of the books you liked earlier, fails to impress me any more. However, both my second reads of Kawabata , not only restored the faith, but was able to appreciate them with the inherited wisdom of experience.

A short novel of guilt, love, seduction and deception, in the backdrops of tea ceremonies and shattered dreams and plans ( and the precious tea cups, symbolically). Twenty five year of Kikuji, trying to fight the past  of the memories and guilt as well as the cunning plans of his fathers mistresses to have their control over him. Kikuji inherited his father vast wealth, post his death. A well respected man, with finesse tastes, collector of ceremonial cups for the Tea functions, and also some one managed more than one mistress while he was alive. This short novel begins with one of his father's mistress Chikako, inviting him for a tea ceremony, only to realise that the pretext behind this was an ulterior motive of a potential match-making.  Cleverly positioning Inamura Yukiko, along with him during the function to play the role of a collaborator. Spoiling her manipulations by arriving at the function was Mrs.Ota, another mistress of his father, with whom he spent majority of his days,  and her daughter Fumiko arriving at the function uninvited. The game of one-upmanship between the mistresses continue as they fight their way to his life.

Kikuji has to endure and carry the guilt of his fathers past, through his mistresses. The girl with the thousand crane kerchief ( he remembers Inamura girl though this symbol and not through her face or character) and the daughter of Mrs Ota ( who is much more prudent and possesses self control), are representative of the new generation and can understand the conflict and difficulties Kikuji is trying to overcome. The real tussle is between the mistresses. One who did not win his fathers favours in bed but was mostly used as an accomplice, and the other, probably younger and better looking who continued to enjoy the favours until the death are now vying to extend their control over the son. Chikako, ugly with a large birth mark spread across half of her breast ( a distant memory remained with Kikuji, which he happens to witness as a young boy) with her poisonous , manipulative acts of taking control and the other by trying to lure the young one into her fold by seduction, and committing suicide out of guilt. The two girls and Kikuji had to face the consequences of the designs of the rivalry, which distance them from one another instead of making alliances and prospective marriage.

The rituals and culture play a major part in Kawabata's works. The concept of thousand cranes ( though not directly referred here) is a Japanese tradition of folding 1000 origami cranes for getting their wishes fulfilled. The 'tea ceremony' again so much of part of the Japanese psyche, which we see in the book going through a deterioration from generations to the next. An event, once very close to his fathers heart, a pride and prestige, a symbol of aristocracy with well preserved and maintained vessels and utensils, are to Kikuji and the new generations are mere curios. One can sense his unhappiness in being forced to participate. The function he would like to conduct in his house, is as a respect to his father, a respect to the past, and not something for the current. These cultural and traditional undercurrents along with the landscape, be it the snow peaked mountains, the flourishing valleys or the changing seasons. The book will have to be absorbed including these vivid and marvelous settings. There are  strong undercurrent of traditions and social stigma in all of his works. Hence the mere story of love and deception, seduction and manipulation, guilt and conscience has a different meaning and values in his novels. Under a calm narrative of simple tale, lies the turbulent currents attributed to these subtleties. Which is why he is one of the masters of 20th century literature.

Thousand Cranes ( 1952 )

Yasunari Kawabata ( translated from Japanese by Edward G.Seidensticker 1958 )

Penguin Classics

91  Pages
Wiki, Complete Review,

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