Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Perfect Winter Book

Title: Snow Country
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
Translator: Edward G. Seidensticker

ISBN: 0679761047
# of Pages: 175
Published: Originally in 1948 ;
1st English Edition 1957;
Vinatage International Edition 1996

Began Reading:
January 1st 2007

Finished Reading:
January 6th, 2007

Challenge:
Book 1 or 12 f
or the TBR Challenge hosted by Miz Books

I have written this entry several times, dear Reader, and yet it never seems to do Kawabata's letters justice. It is not that he has the drive of his student Mishima or his writing the eloquence (& disturbing quality) of Nabokov, the insight of Austen or the passion of Bronte. This is no Tolkien fantasy land of mystic elvish songs and hairy hobbits. Nothing like Dumas' brave Musketeers or Dante's epic. Kawabata is simple, plain. While all of the above are like the Grand Opulence of literature, Kawabata's piece is a vanilla ice cream cone; no dressings, no toppings. And yet, is there not something so basic, so fundamental about vanilla ice cream balls scooped on the cone that give it this long-term value that exceeds even the richest and most expensive of 'desserts'?

Yes that is it.

Kawabata is fundamental. Life, memory, existence - we know it now as this perfect line, when in fact it isn't even dotted or faded, much less bold and solid. It is not a line at all but a messy swirl that overlaps, passes borders, exceeds imagination. Kawabata has no beginning or end save for the letters that find themselves in that particular position within the bound papers that make up his book.

After some preliminary research, Kawabata's style is an extension of the haiku supposition of sporadic moments being caught in time. Snow Country is a collection of moments that are shared between Shimamura, he who finds use in the useless, and Komako, our young mountain geisha. These two share a series of junctures that, alone, may seem passive and even cold but combined are dynamite. The more I return to the text and select random sections, the more shocked I am that upon first reading these passages my notes indicate confusion, indecisiveness and at times frustration as I attempted to fit Kawabata's love story within the canon norm. Do not waste your time judging me for this. I am well aware of my crime and penance I have payed. Life is richer with Kawabata's words, "You're a good girl." In my case it took some time for that fact to dawn on me.

Is it naughty that, once again, I think of Gatsby? And how Daisy confesses her love to him? "You're a good woman"?

The reason I entitled this 'The Perfect Winter Read' is a reference to the resent podcast that I listened to by Reina. The subject of last month's episode was in fact winter reads and her companion mentioned that he never knew of a book that was actually about winter. And though what is not being said here is that this book is about winter, the season- the cold, the snow, the mountains covered for miles - allows for another dimension to the otherwise common words. "The woman's hair, the glass of the window, the sleeve of his kimono-everything he touched was cold in a way Shimamura had never known before.
Even the straw mats under his feet seemed cold. He started down to the bath." page 45

In reference to the above, concerning beginnings and endings, let us elaborate. Shimamura is on his way to this secluded village of northern Japan where feet of snow fall. The populace is comprised of working geisha and tourist men who come for a vacation alone or with friends. Our two principal characters fall under these categories. Shimamura is on the train where he hears the most clear and beautiful voice, that of Yoko. In the hotel he befriends and later enchants Komako whom we soon discover is somehow related to Yoko indirectly. They share a love for a man who dies suddenly; the situation is never clear nor defined. Shimamura is attached to one, intrigued by the other.

" 'You'll catch cold. See how cold it is." He tried to pull her back, but she clung to the railing.

'I'm going home.' Her voice choked.

'Go home, then.'

'Let me stay like this a little longer.'

'I'm going down for a bath.'

'No, stay here with me.'

'If you close the window.'

'Let me stay here like this a little longer.'

[...] He started down to the bath.

'Wait. I'll go with you.' The woman followed meekly."

Throughout there is a bitterness to this triangle between each of them: Shimamura in not returning Komako's love, Komako's and Yoko's fates being forced by some unknown circumstance to come together, Yoko and Shimamura for the lack of opportunity to pursue their intrigue. By the physical end of this book, one woman is lost in body, the other in mind. Shimamura watches knowing he will not return again to this place. "As he caught his footing, his head fell back, and the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar." And the words stop. Just like that.

Note: So, yes I recommend this book.

Yes, M, I am taking your harsh and hardy advice to heart and trying on a new format for size. Something that is more emotive, a touch academic and includes some of the literary styles I have taken affectionate note of (such as Stendhal!) and implementing/trying them on for size right here at my very own blog. What think you, some-what friend? Can you tell which I have decided to include (they are pretty obvious considering I talked about them with you for an entire hour!!)

14 Comments:

Literary Feline said...

Wow, Nessie! That was quite a review. I've added the book to my wishlist. Thanks for the recommendation!

bibliobibuli said...

thanks for dropping by my blog. this is a book you've made me want to read too.

MizB said...

LOL. Yes, the TBR Challenge has grown tremendously, and I'm a *tad* overwhelmed -- but in a good way. ;o)

Your review is great! :o)

<>< Mizbooks

sally906 said...

Wow - love your review - I am going to add this book to my "Recommended Books" list

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

Excellent review. A critical thinker you are Miss! I've added this to my TBR Mountain.

iliana said...

Wonderful review Nessie! Just wonderful. Have you read A Thousand Cranes by him? I highly recommend it. I know I'm adding this book to my TBR list.

acquisitionist said...

Thankyou so much for bringing this book to my attention. Sounds wonderful.

nessie said...

Iliana, my next purchase will be both a thousand paper cranes and Master of GO. The former is supposed to be the book he considers to be his only master piece. Of course I have to read it!

All you other guys, happy to hear this blog/book summing is getting us somewhere. If ever you all have a big ? about Jap lit let me know... its the only genre I know well enough to inform on.

CountryGirl_CityLife said...

Thanks for stopping by. Love your blog, especially the hot author section, yum. I am bad and will totally read books based on the yummy author. I do have to admit, your reading selections are making me feel a bit shallow. I do have several classics on my TBR shelf & you have inspired me to swap a classic for one of the other TBR books.

Kristen said...

Nessie,
Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I've now found yours and have been here forever browsing around. So many good books, so little time!

I just finished my 1st TBR challenge book too... getting ready to post about it on my family blog.

nessie said...

Country Girl: I am all about the yummy factor.

Kristen: I couldn't agree with you more! I just finished the Red and the Black people and am starting Faulkner tonight! The Sound and the Fury. Hurray!

Isabella said...

Snow Country sounds lovely! I read the Master of Go some years ago, thought it brilliant -- if memory serves, it's more journalistic in style.

(If you have anything to say about The Red and the Black, consider dropping a note here to spark some discussion.)

(China Mieville's the hottest.)

Lotus Reads said...

What a glorious review, Nessie! I have tried reading Kawabata's "Thousand Cranes" and just yesterday I finished Tanizaki's "Some Prefer Nettles" but I cannot seem to get out of these books the glorious stuff that you do. I guess I just don't know how to read Japanese classics - help!!!

Brandie said...

Great review .... of course I just added this book to my must read list ...
Do you think being a member of the TBR challenge is okay even if it causes you to add more books to the TBR list than it makes you take off ;-)