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Thread: Kawabata's "Snow Country"

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Post Kawabata's "Snow Country"



    As the so-caled masterpiece of one of Japan's most renowned writer, and one of the only two who have been awared a Nobel prize for literature (so far), I had pretty high expectations for this book. Neverthless, no sooner had I started reading than I found myself stuck into a nondescript, monotonous narrative.

    Throughout the book I've been kept on hold for some action or event that never really happened (except maybe the fire at the end).

    For a Nobelist, Kawabata lacks a talent for rich, vivid and accurate descriptions of his own country, in a way that Alan Booth could capture so perfectly in "The Roads to Sata" or "Looking for the Lost".

    The plot, which is based on a romance and geisha atmosphere, leaves a lot to be desired, especially compared to the superb and gripping "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden.

    If even Western writers can depict better Japanese landscapes and traditional lifestyles, or render the spirit of time and people in a more emotionally compulsive way than this giant of Japanese literature, the problem might just reside in the translation itself. Seidensticker is, however, one of the most famous translator of Japanese literature into English. I'll have to read the Japanese version to tell. But the story is so basic and boring that it can hardly be much better. If you are to read it in English, you'd as well give it a miss, except if you want to say you've read Kawabata.

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  2. #2
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    I've read a few reviews on amazon.com and, apparently, some readers have found the story interesting because of sort of secret affair going one between a married man (Shimamura) and a geisha (Komako). However, this was and still is tacitly acceptable in Japanese society. As Seidensticker puts it in the introduction, "The special delights of the hot spring are for the unaccompanied gentleman. No prosperous hotspring is without its geisha and its compliant hotel maids."

    Nothing is said regarding the two having sex, but every Japanese would understand it implicitly. Japanese are much less ashamed of sex as Judeo-Christian morals haven't penetrated their society. They have a more matter-of-fact approach, and Japanese men aren't known for being romantic. Traditionally, getting married is more of an alliance between families or a business to make and raise children in a common house than a love affair. The big gap with Western mentality is that once a woman has children her husband doesn't regard her as a woman any more, but a mother. As she will usually turn all her affection to her child(ren), the man is understood to be free to play around, or at least being entertained by other women, be them geishas, or nowadays hostesses. Not unlike with Shimamura, men will not necessarily seek love, but just a feminine presence that care about and praise them. Both geishas and hostesses have the choice to have sex with their customers or not like any single ordinary woman. As Komako says : "No one forces a geisha to do what she doesn't want to. It's entirely up the the geisha herself".

    Without knowing these aspects of Japanese culture, the book might be misunderstood by an outsider. However, once you know about this, that makes the book even more unexceptional and banal for any Japanese could have written a similar story - at least anybody of Kawabata's generation.

  3. #3
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Maciamo
    Not unlike with Shimamura, men will not necessarily seek love, but just a feminine presence that care about and praise them.
    The entire point being, however, that while neither of them could or would accept the love of the other neither could they end up settling for something less. The narrative style is very much more disjointed, emotionally distant, and the plotline less developed through natural symbolism than his very early or later works, though, even those with Seidensticker's translation. Which also makes me reluctant to say more until getting deeper into the original.

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