Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways's Reviews > Snow Country

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
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Aug 03, 13

Read in April, 2011

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country is widely considered to be the writer’s masterpiece: a powerful tale of wasted love set amid the desolate beauty of western Japan.

At an isolated mountain hot spring, with snow blanketing every surface, Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante meets Komako, a lowly geisha. She gives herself to him fully and without remorse, despite knowing that their passion cannot last and that the affair can have only one outcome. In chronicling the course of this doomed romance, Kawabata has created a story for the ages — a stunning novel dense in implication and exalting in its sadness.



My Review: Married, bored (but I repeat myself) aesthete, philanderer, and flâneur Shimamura, an aficionado of Western ballet (although he's never seen one), takes a solo trip into Japan's Snow Country. While there in the wildest of boondocks Japan possesses, he meets Komako, probably the world's worst geisha, but apparently a fascinating contrast to all other women for Shimamura. They meet a total of three times in two years. Another woman, Yoko, hovers purposelessly around the narrative until, for no apparent reason, Komako and Shimamura have a fight over his feelings (?) for Yoko, who for some reason nursed Komako's not-quite-fiance Yukio while he died, despite the fact that Komako indentured herself to the (apparently quite unsuitable) career of geisha to pay for his death expenses.

Then a fire breaks out and Komako runs into the burning building and saves Yoko while Shimamura stands there and looks up at the sky. Fin.

No, seriously.

I spent the entire month I was reading this book, all 175pp of it, alternately claustrophobic and bemused. WTF, I kept thinking, why am I still at this rock-pile, trying to winkle out some small purpose to the narrative; then along would come a gem, eg:
It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void.
p44, Vintage ed., trans. Seidensticker


Oh wow, I thought, and plowed on. And on. And on. Every damn time Komako exhibits what today we'd call a bipolar break exacerbated by alcohol abuse, I'd find myself thinking, "This damned book is Come Back, Little Sheba directed by Kurosawa." Seriously. Shirley Booth did the same bloody role in that movie, only Burt Lancaster (whose role as her husband bewitched by a younger woman was pretty much exactly like Shimamura) is the one who drank.

I drank a good bit myself, trudging ever onward, marching off to war with the cross of Jesus going on before; okay, I'm a piss-poor Christian soldier, but you get the sense of futility I was experiencing. Then, it happened.

He had stayed so long that one might wonder whether he had forgotten his wife and children. He stayed not because he could not leave Komako nor because he did not want to. He had simply fallen into the habit of waiting for those frequent visits. And the more continuous the assault became, the more he began to wonder what was lacking in him, what kept him from living as completely...All of Komako came to him, but it seemed that nothing went out from him to her. He heard in his chest, like snow piling up, the sound of Komako, an echo beating against empty walls. And he knew he could not go on pampering himself forever.
pp154-155

So there *is* a point to this hike! And a profound one: The sudden awakening of human feeling in an otherwise dead heart. It was a payoff, and a major one. But did it have to be such a Bataan Death March of a journey to get here? And the stupid-ass last line of the book, which made me so bloody angry that I began raining curses on the lady whose idea it was our book circle read the book...! INFURIATINGLY SOPHOMORICALLY PORTENTOUS, I shrieked. The dog ran away from me. The same dog who, at an earlier moment in my tossing about of the book, expressed her opinion of it by fanging the corner. She calmed down after I did, but really...does one *want* to read this book? I won't do it again. But, on balance and after sleeping on it, I'm glad that I did.

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Quotes Richard Reviles Censorship Liked

Yasunari Kawabata
“As he caught his footing, his head fell back, and the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar.”
Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country


Reading Progress


Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

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message 1: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Sigh, you know, I had this on my shelf as well, you old meanie.

And 'bad' reviews often egg me on to actually read the book to see what the fuss is about. Now I'm going to have to read this one first.

Sigh.


message 2: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller What makes it worse is that a lot of my other friends gave this a "good" review!

Argh.


message 3: by Melki (new)

Melki Married, bored (but I repeat myself)...
Genius. Sheer genius.


message 4: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Moonbutterfly and Capsguy agreed with you on a 3 star rating so you are not hanging out alone on your rock-pile. I think I'll stick with Mishima for a while. Great review Richard!


message 5: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller ..but wait, there is this:
Richard wrote: "but really...does one *want* to read this book? I won't do it again. But, on balance and after sleeping on it, I'm glad that I did.

This has been on my shelf too long for me to take it off again. Not going to happen, and it's nice and short, besides.
..but thanks for the warning, anyway, Richard!


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Melki wrote: "Married, bored (but I repeat myself)...
Genius. Sheer genius."


When in doubt, paraphrase the greats: "Suppose you are crooked, and suppose you are a Congressman...but I repeat myself..."--Mark Twain

:-D


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Jeffrey wrote: "Moonbutterfly and Capsguy agreed with you on a 3 star rating so you are not hanging out alone on your rock-pile. I think I'll stick with Mishima for a while. Great review Richard!"

Thank you, Jeffrey!


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Traveller wrote: "..but wait, there is this:
Richard wrote: "but really...does one *want* to read this book? I won't do it again. But, on balance and after sleeping on it, I'm glad that I did.

This has been on my ..."


Just so long as you know what you're getting yourself into, all is well. YMMV...could be your best read ever!

But I doubt it.


message 9: by Traveller (last edited Jun 01, 2012 04:14PM) (new) - added it

Traveller Richard, I am at this very moment raising a nice, Friday evening little glass of red smoky coffee to ya, friend, and your review and words of caution become almost as mellow as my more and more clumsy lil' fingers are tripping and stumbling over my once so easy to navigate keyboard...soon my own tiles will start looking soft to me. How's your afternoon fla, er THERMOS of coffee still holdin' up?


message 11: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller ghzzzzachtly!


message 12: by Karben00 (new)

Karben00 I may stop reading books altogether. I may instead just read Richard's reviews, which never disappoint.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Karben00 wrote: "I may stop reading books altogether. I may instead just read Richard's reviews, which never disappoint."

awwwwwwwwwwwwww thank you, cuddlepunkin!


message 14: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 Married, bored (but I repeat myself) hehe
INFURIATINGLY SOPHOMORICALLY PORTENTOUS, I shrieked. The dog ran away from me. heheheheh I could actually picture this scene.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Ha! Glad I was able to convey it so clearly!


message 16: by Hend (last edited Jun 05, 2012 12:24PM) (new) - added it

Hend I only read the master of funerals to Kawabata..
it was very sad and depressing,every one was dying in that novel!

I think i will do exactly like Jeffrey ,and stick with Mishima,i read the confessions of a mask,it was unique haven't read anything like it before.....


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways *puffs chest with pride*

OW! That pin hurts!


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Kat wrote: "Oops! If you give a fencer a pointy thing, we will invariably stab something. I should definitely NOT be allowed to run for Congress."

You may not run for Congress for an entirely different reason: You're too ethical. You'd last about ten seconds among those thieves.


David I didn't have a great experience with "Snow Country" the first time. Please don't let it put you off Kawabata.


David Jeffrey wrote: "Moonbutterfly and Capsguy agreed with you on a 3 star rating so you are not hanging out alone on your rock-pile. I think I'll stick with Mishima for a while. Great review Richard!"

Mishima wrote some of Kawabata's work! Kawabata was from the old school and had no problems with his work being heavily "amended" before publication. At times he was addicted to painkillers and had little idea what was going on. Mishima is thought to have written much of:
House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories


message 21: by Leo (new)

Leo Robertson Haha! Reminds me of my recent attempt to read Spring Snow by Mishima: nothing's happening, nothing's happening, oh! Nice snow metaphor. Nothing's happening...


David Spring Snow is my most favourite book of all time.


message 23: by Leo (new)

Leo Robertson Oh dear! I feel obliged to give it a second go, then :)


David I really wish you would. It's beautiful. Honda's German law vs Manu law can become tiring, but he's making some interesting points that help set the story, and are crucial if you are going to read all four.


message 25: by Leo (new)

Leo Robertson Ok! I only made it about 100 pages in, but if you say its worth persevering then I will :) Sorry for hijacking your thread Richard!


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Discussion of books isn't hijacking to me...discussing one's cats would be. I'm not thinking of another Kawabata read soon. Thousand Cranes and this one seem to me to be enough.


message 27: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope One has to be in a particular mood for Kawabata.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Kalliope wrote: "One has to be in a particular mood for Kawabata."

I sense this, and await this mood's descent upon me. I'm certainly not sorry I read the book, as quite a lot of it was lovely.


message 29: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Richard wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "One has to be in a particular mood for Kawabata."

I sense this, and await this mood's descent upon me. I'm certainly not sorry I read the book, as quite a lot of it was lovely."


I think I have read two of his books and once was in the mood and once wasn't. I still have one more in my shelves waiting for the mood to come back...


David I think you've been unlucky with your choices, Richard. I wasn't a huge fan of Thousand Cranes. Beauty and Sadness and The Sound of the Mountain rocked my world!


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways I'll put them on the Reserve List.


Carla W Just finished Snow Country after having been enamored with Kawabata's Palm of the Hand Stories. I was looking at these works stylistically since I enjoy writing and reading haiku and have been looking for a way to write a "haiku-like" novel, which Snow Country purportedly is. IMHO, a lot is supposed to be inferred in this book, and a lot must be lost in translation. That said, I agree that the first half was drudgery to get through; I enjoyed the second half much more. More poetic language came into it (snow bleaching of kimonos, the Milky Way, the Buddhist nuns crossing the bridge in the town Shimamoto visits, the rice hanging along the path early in the second half), but it's infuriating how we have, as you say, almost no plot, and no depth of characterization in this book. Chalk that up to it being a 'string of haikus linked together', per the introduction, I guess. Cheers for an entertaining and thought-provoking review.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Thank you most kindly for stopping in to say so, Carla! I still think back on the book, more than two years later, but I still don't think I *got* the darn thing at the level it purports to exist. Seidensticker was a prolific translator of Japanese literature. I wonder if the reason might have been that, in the 1950s and 1960s, there simply weren't that many English speakers who were sufficiently conversant with Japanese to make competition for him.

I'd like to see a modern-day translation of this novel so I could compare them.


Carla W Could be! I see a lot of reviewers here are complaining about the translation. Anyway, your review still pops up at the top of the list, probably due to the number of comments it generated. That's how I found you, two years later! Cheers again- I will follow your reviews now! ;-)


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