23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Some might miss the point, 23 Feb 2004
'Do you want to read this book?' is probably the question you are trying to find the answer to if you are reading this. Tricky one. Not as your first Kawabata novel, I would suggest...
Kawabata's writing style is somewhat unique. So little is revealed in the lines of text, it is left up to the reader to interpret deeper meaning. All you get at face value is the telling of everyday life, slow and without event or excitement, almost as if describing the world to a blind man. It is all very pleasantly told and reads well (despite Seidensticker, who by a notable lack of praise it seems is recognised as a not particularly good translator). But the fact that you have to fill in the blanks yourself, guessing emotions from people's reactions (unusual in a book, and if you're like me, needing some re-reading before enlightenment) means it is not for all. This applies to all Kawabata's work. There is more than a little imagination involved to get the full effect, although you are given some pointers. The bonus is that so much is left unsaid, the result becomes highly personalised. Adding in the effort required to see through the lightweight text to the much stronger imagery beneath, the task becomes highly rewarding. Probably why those who like their Kawabata book covet it so strongly.
Once you have deeply appreciated one Kawabata though, will you want or need more? The style stands out in part because it is so different. And some of the most notable phrases/observations are repeated in his other novels, reducing the effect (although again, not having read the original texts I do not know how far Seidensticker's wording is to blame).
There is a good chance you will want to stop and cling to one as a favourite. That is why I would recommend a different choice to start with. Despite good writing and the satisfaction bonus provided by all Kawabata works, the third factor (content) is unpleasing. It is the tale of an old man in post-war Japan, living in his run-down home with three generations of his family and disillusioned by his offspring, all of whom are (by the author's intent) extremely disagreeable. Only his daughter-in-law, Kikuko, provides a ray of light, but he punishes himself for his feelings toward her, which although only shown as affection, he thinks could run deeper if allowed. Failed marriages, abortions, and the recurring reminders of suicide as an option for all age groups are the theme for this tale of end of life dissatisfaction.
Yes, it is a good book, but you are deliberately presented with unlikeable characters. It would be wrong to call ANY Kawabata novel a 'feel good' story, since all end rather openly on hope alone, but because of its theme, this may reward less than others. If you are looking for life's bitterness or could be content holding on to Kikuko as the last thread of decency in a failing family line, this may be the one for you. More widely read and undoubtedly more appreciated is the masterpiece "Snow Country".
But then, I'm biased... I read that one first.