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Snow Country (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Yasunari Kawabata , Edward G. Seidensticker
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Jan 2011 Penguin Modern Classics
Shimamura is tired of the bustling city. He takes the train through the snow to the mountains of the west coast of Japan, to meet with a geisha he believes he loves. Beautiful and innocent, Komako is tightly bound by the rules of a rural geisha, and lives a life of servitude and seclusion that is alien to Shimamura, and their love offers no freedom to either of them. Snow Country is both delicate and subtle, reflecting in Kawabata's exact, lyrical writing the unspoken love and the understated passion of the young Japanese couple.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (6 Jan 2011)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141192593
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141192598
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Yasunari Kawabata was born near Osaka in 1899 and was orphaned at the age of two. His first stories were published while he was still in high school and he decided to become a writer. He graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1924 and a year later made his first impact on Japanese letters with Izu Dancer. He soon became a leading figure the lyrical school that offered the chief challenge to the proletarian literature of the late 1920s. His writings combine the two forms of the novel and the haiku poems, which within restrictions of a rigid metre achieves a startling beauty by its juxtaposition of opposite and incongruous terms. Snow Country (1956) and Thousand Cranes (1959) brought him international recognition. Kawabata died by his own hand, on April 16 1972.

Snow Country is translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker (1921-2007), who was a prominent scholar of Japanese literature.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haiku in prose 19 Aug 2006
Format:Paperback
Unless you are familiar with Japanese culture and language, you will find Snow Country different from most any novel you may have read. Read superficially the novel appears to follow a simple plot and structure. Yet, its intensity and beauty lies in the lyrical imagery of landscape and evocation of the protagonists' complex psyche and their relationships.

The novel can be compared to a Japanese brushstroke painting, economic and suggestive, where the observant eye is able to complete the picture or the story. To fully appreciate Kawabata's prose in English, newcomers are well advised to empty their minds of other, mainly western, literary experiences and expectations and open up to a different world. Snow Country has to be read at a very slow pace. Every word has importance, with sometimes more than one meaning. With these preparations and attitude of mind, Snow Country is an enriching experience that will linger on long after reading it.

Kawabata tells the story of Shimamura, a wealthy man of leisure who's visiting a hot springs mountain resort to meet the local geisha, Komako. He comes for distraction and out of boredom with his real life in Tokyo. Komako is a reluctant geisha, but has resigned herself to her role, while hoping for some other life. The contrast between what they are and what they would like to be is played out in their interactions. Shimamura is drawn to the unreal or the unlikely or impossible. He wants to remain "just friends" with Komako. Her chatty and highly emotional outbursts leave him somewhat amused and bored, yet he misses her when away from her. She does not behave like a real mountain geisha. His room is like a refuge from that life, a place where she can literally let her hair down.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Sadness of Things 30 Mar 2011
By J C E Hitchcock TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In Japanese the term "Yukiguni", or "Snow Country", is used to describe those areas of western Honshu, between the mountains and the Sea of Japan, which receive large amounts of snow in winter, and it is in this area that the novel is set. The action takes place during the 1930s. Shimamura, a wealthy man from Tokyo, arrives in a remote hot spring resort in the mountains, where he engages in an affair with Komako, a local geisha.

The resort in this book is not a typical family holiday resort in the sense that Westerners would understand the term. The tradition in Japan appears to have been for hot springs in the Snow Country to cater for male travellers travelling alone in search of female companionship. The geishas found in such resorts were different to the geishas found in major cities, who are primarily entertainers. Hot spring geishas were expected to "entertain" their male patrons in both senses of that verb, and, as the translator Edward Seidensticker points out in his introduction, the pretence that she was an artist and not a prostitute was often a thin one indeed. The romance (if it deserves that name) between Komako and Shimamura is therefore a doomed one; she is in love with him, but not vice-versa. He may be in love with her beauty, and her arts, but that is not the same thing. Kawabata paints Shimamura as a shallow dilettante and playboy; the most telling detail about his character is that although he claims to be an expert on Western ballet his knowledge of it is derived entirely from books. He has never actually seen a ballet in his life- a detail symbolising his distancing of himself from life.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book 25 Mar 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book was absolutely wonderful and very moving. I found myself thinking about the characters and setting for days after I finished the book. This book tells the story of tragic and hopeless love through a very unique and heartbreaking approach. The setting of the cold mountain area was described in such a way that brought chills down my back. This was an excellent book that went straight to my heart. Read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Hauntingly beautiful and highly moving, Kawabata's 'Snow Country' is arguably his finest novel. 'Snow Country' is the story of Shimamura, a married man from Tokyo, whom travels sporadically into the Snow Country of the title, to visit Komako, a geisha he believes he loves. Kawabata's evocation of the largely unspoken, troubled love between Shimamura, who is forever a traveller, in this remote, traditional region of Japan, and the sensitive, but unpredictable alcoholic Komako, is breathtaking in its honest, complex and commendably unsentimental portrait of the apparent hopelessness for a truly happy love, between the two. Kawabata's depiction of the landscape is also one of the novel's highlights, a land he portrays with both a piercing realism, and also with an eye for its incredible, sometimes harsh, natural beauty. 'Snow Country' is a novel packed with images of the landscape which surrounds the couple, yet they compliment the quietly pained relationship of Shimamura and Komako, instead of ever getting in the way of it.

Although this is a text which focuses on tradition, Kawabata's writing techniques are often innovative and rather modern. The novel's often imperceptible shift between time frames, locations and conversations, heightens the sense of fragmentation both lovers feel, as well as Shimamura's shifts between location, and between memories - common for the traveller. There are no serious faults in 'Snow Country', which is an extremely rare thing for a novel - but if I were to have to highlight one misstep, it is fair to say that a few of the conversations between the couple are a bit too dull and repetitive; even if they do portray successfully, a kind of frustrated stagnation, in their relationship. However, to focus on this is akin to focusing on one errant brushstroke in a wonderful painting. Mesmerising, strange and yet utterly engaging, and gorgeously evoked, Kawabata's 'Snow Country' is one of the finest novels of the 20th century.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Poorly translated or...?
Either this book has been poorly translated or the original is strangely awkward.

However the story and characters have remained with me since I finished it, so there is... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Ransen Owen
3.0 out of 5 stars Impenetrable account of Japanese life
One would have to have a real understanding of Japanese culture and ways of living to get much out of this book. The "clunky" translation doesn't help. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read if you like something different
As others have said the pleasure in this book comes from the different style of writing and finding out about a completely different world and culture , rather than the story and... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Christine
3.0 out of 5 stars A strange little book
This is a short, odd book which throws an oblique light on Japanese culture. It opens up a strange world of amorality, pragmatism and a society distorted over centuries. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Liz
3.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric
The book is quite atmospheric and is slightly mysterious, although the latter could be due to something being lost in translation. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Michael L
5.0 out of 5 stars Good time
It is a very beautiful description of Japanese living in the province. A very beautiful love story, I wish I was there. Literature, when it is best.
Published 17 months ago by Jim W.-
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, lyrical, Japanese novel of mid 20th century
I loved reading this novel about the ambiguous relationship between an idle Japanese man from Tokyo and a young Geisha who lives and works at a mountain resort where people go to... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Mary
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating world about relations
This is an incredibly beautiful novel written by the Laureate in literature Yasunari Kawabata. It depicts the relation between Shimamura, a wealthy man and the geisha, Komako. Read more
Published on 19 July 2012 by Joyce Åkesson
3.0 out of 5 stars I wasn't that fussed
It was ok, I suppose - but it all felt too literary for me. It didn't really feel like it went anywhere, and the characters didn't seem to grow. Read more
Published on 18 May 2011 by Taryn East
2.0 out of 5 stars Skilful but also painful
I read this book having rather enjoyed one of Kawabata's others - A Thousand Cranes - and found his subtle yet powerful style intriguing and potentially attractive. Read more
Published on 18 May 2010 by Andrew K. Evans
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