Anna Engel's Reviews > Beauty and Sadness

Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata
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's review
May 19, 2011

really liked it
Read in April, 2011

Although a translation, Beauty and Sadness is very well-written, using simple, beautiful language in a style that I have come to think of as modern Japanese. I love this style for its deliberateness and simplicity. Less is more, both in the language used and in the details provided in the story. Kawabata's prose is elegant yet spare, descriptive yet simple. His words are the embodiment of Japanese art – Otoko's lifeblood.

Beauty and Sadness is a story of passion (not love) that borders on obsession and of intertwined emotional/sexual relationships. Each relationship involves passion, pain, pleasure, and betrayal.

The characters and their relationships with each other are developed just enough to be considered people – but not so much that you know all of the intimate details of their lives.

Oki is that older guy who hits on younger women because he feels like they should appreciate him. However, he doesn't respect anyone – not his wife, not Keiko, not Otoko, not his son. Otoko is sad, but calm, eager to please even though she is independent. Keiko is young, volatile, and unrepentant. Taichiro is young, traditional, and naïve, but desperately wants to do something to please his young woman.

Oki and Otoko are the most obvious and most explicitly described relationship. She's young and headstrong, while he's self-absorbed and unapologetic. Even Oki's wife becomes part of the love triangle as the third, if nearly invisible, side. She is quite justifiably bitter and resentful of her husband's love affair with a younger woman – a woman who is artistic and utterly unwifely.

Otoko grew up and mostly outgrew her relationship with Oki. She evolved into a woman content (but not happy) with her life. Her professional, romantic, and sexual relationship with Keiko provides some extra spice and drama to her life, but no additional happiness.

The natural setting plays a very fundamental role in creating a setting a permanence: the ancient temples, the tea gardens, the mountains, the moon ceremony, the mist.

It's a beautiful book, but sad. You don't come away with a feeling of resolution or that anyone got what they wanted in the end.

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