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Customer reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
The Master of Go
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VINE VOICEon 20 September 2007
The game of Go is ancient and, although originating in China, may be said to have reached its zenith in Japan where it was further developed and its experts revered. You do not need to understand the intricacies of tactics and rituals, however, in order to fully appreciate this beautiful work.

Based on contemporary reports made by the author while he was working for the Mainichi newspapers, this 'chronicle-novel' (as Liza Dalby calls it in her succinct but informative introduction) relates the details of and events surrounding the last ever match played by the Master and his opponent Kitani Minoru (called Otake in the novel) in 1938.

Owing to the Master's illness, the match was prolonged by three months and thus lasted for six. Even the originally allotted time-span, however, was longer than most other comparable matches and was the result of accommodating the needs of the aging Master, who was used to the old ways where moves were not timed and sealed plays not permitted.

Although all that happens in this novel is this match and a description of Shusai's death (as detailed in the blurb), it held my attention throughout. It is beautifully written and is,indeed, as the Washington Post describes it, "one of modern literature's greatest, most poignant elegies". The prose is simple but beguiling and it is easy to see why Kawabata was a Nobel Prize winner. Treat yourself.
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on 15 November 2007
This novel by Nobelist Yasunari Kawabata is a mixture of real-world events and fiction: it is a description of a real-world Go match, fought in 1938 between Honinbo Shusai and Minoru Kitani. Kawabata was present at the game, reporting it to the newspaper that had organized the match. In this book, Kawabata has taken certain liberties, though: some names and events have been changed, there's a dose of fiction in the story.

Fiction or not, it is a beautiful story. Kawabata's style is subtle and even though not much happens in the book, it is an intriguing tale that hooks the reader as the events unfold both on the Go board and outside it. The Go match is in the focus, yet at the same time Kawabata offers so much more: the clash between tradition and modern rationalism and the struggle between two strong personalities.

I don't know how much one can enjoy the book without any knowledge of Go. Go was the reason I read this book, and I was satisfied - the match was very central to the story. The story is, however, very beautiful and Kawabata - or at least the translator Edward Seidensticker - knows his way with words, so it was a pleasure to read, Go or no Go.
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on 21 October 2010
The quality of the writing of this book is well known and can be best described by the other reviewers. In short, it's a fascinating account of an important time in the history of Go.

What I'd like to draw attention to is the poor quality of the diagrams in this book and the notes that accompany them. Throughout the story diagrams of the Go board are included so you can understand how the game itself was played and is of incredible interest to anyone who plays Go themselves. Unfortunately, many of the references to the board are in correct and stones in the diagrams are often left unnumbered for no reason, making it incredibly difficult to follow the plays on the board as they are described in the story.

Nevertheless, this is a great book and a great read for anyone with knowledge of the game of Go. The poor publishing is a disgrace on such a fine piece of writing.
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on 20 December 2016
Didn't think much of this, to be honest. Very slow moving, with not much happening throughout many of the chapters. Perhaps the Japanese version is more enjoyable, but this just felt dull and monotonous. Also, as I don't know much about Go, it was maybe a little difficult to understand in places.
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on 28 June 2013
I know i know, this book is not a review of the game between Shusai and Otake. It's a book which tries to describe that epoch and the go world of that time and Kuwabata does a good job even though i felt at some points that the information was too much and not that interesting. My main problem is that i would have liked more information about the styles of play, the meaning of the moves, the strategies that arose from those moves etc. which Kuwabata does but doesn't go in depth. He informs us with the health conditions of the participants, their habbits, the difficulties in organizing such event, the length of the series, the time they spend on the clock, some comments about the mentality of the players and on occasion throws some comments about the positions. Also the diagramms are too few. It's not a bad book and i'm sure many will enjoy his easy style of writing but i was a bit dissapointed. If you purchase the book with the expectation of getting to know the details of their game and inside info you will be dissapointed as i was but if you are more interested in the era of that time in Japan and its implications on go then this is the book.
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on 24 April 2011
I'm a compulsive reformist so i was kind of glad at the death of the old ways. It made this book a strange one for me. It's easily slowest and saddest book I've ever enjoyed. The author must spend a total of three pages talking about a long eyebrow hair. If that sounds like the right amount of eyebrow hair length commentary then this is literally the only book I can think of that might suit your tastes.
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on 13 July 2016
really enjoyable thanks :)
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on 20 September 2015
Exactly what I expected.
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on 18 July 2014
Slow and very wierd!
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on 4 April 2013
I LOVE everything Japanese. Almost an addict actually - but maybe I wasn't in the mood to make it through this novel. It's quite slow, but I'm sure it will appeal to a wide range of readers.

I'll get round to it ... eventually!
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