85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Images and Nuances
Snow Country, probably the most famous of Yasunari Kawabata's classical Japanese novels, is the story of a love affair doomed from the very start.
Set on the snowy, mountainous slopes of Western Japan, Snow Country tells the story of Komako, a hot springs geisha and Shimamura, a wealthy Tokyo dilettante who works as an expert on occidental ballet. The focus of the...
Published on September 16, 2000
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Books Love Jessica Marie
During the time that this book was written many people believed that becoming a modern, industrialized, country meant loneliness and detachment for the people of Japan, which is the main theme of the Snow Country. This theme of melancholy is portrayed through the love affair between an onsen geisha named Komako and a Japanese businessman named Shimamura. I believe that...
Published on May 13, 2009 by Jessica Gallagher
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85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Images and Nuances,
By A Customer
This review is from: Snow Country (Paperback)Snow Country, probably the most famous of Yasunari Kawabata's classical Japanese novels, is the story of a love affair doomed from the very start.
Set on the snowy, mountainous slopes of Western Japan, Snow Country tells the story of Komako, a hot springs geisha and Shimamura, a wealthy Tokyo dilettante who works as an expert on occidental ballet. The focus of the novel is on three visits to Komako from Shimamura and their changing relationship as well as Yoko, a maid at the inn where Shimamura chooses to stay while in the snow country. Each of these three characters is searching for love, yet finds himself (or herself) incapable of fully experiencing it.
Throughout Snow Country, Kawabata utilizes the changing of the seasons as a metaphor for the changing relationship between Komako and Shimamura. Meeting in the spring, Shimamura sees Komako as an "amateur," a mere girl, and feels the need to protect her, much as one would protect a growing seedling. The relationship thus begins in genuine friendship and under the protection of Shimamura, Komako grows and matures.
Shimamura's second visit takes place in the fall and Komako, who has matured into a woman, finds that her relationship with Shimamura has changed; she no longer views him as her protector and finds that the friendship the two once shared has now become a struggling romance. Komako, who emotionally, has moved beyond the superficial Shimamura, now views him with a mixture of passion and contempt.
Winter brings yet another change to this enigmatic relationship as Komako and Shimamura begin to argue and grow further and further apart. Shimamura finds himself attracted to Yoko, but it is an attraction that can only end in tragedy for all concerned. Although the ending of the novel may be confusing for some, it does effectively sever any ties that Komako and Shimamura may have had.
Although lyrically beautiful, the novel is almost painful to read as the characters struggle to keep their dignity intact in the face of their disintegrating relationship. Kawabata's writing is gorgeous and poetic and the book embodies the juxtaposition of his signature themes of beauty and sorrow. The narrative is minimal, as it should be, emphasizing the three characters' inability to love and live life to the fullest.
Kawabata uses subtle, yet rich, imagery instead of a dense and complex narrative. "...insects smaller than moths gathered on the thick white powder of her neck. Some of them died there as Shimamura watched." Kawabata wisely gives us only the beautiful essentials, existing largely in the conversations of the characters. The haiku-like images that make up their surroundings also lends insight into their character. This is an novel of nuance and atmosphere, of bare essentials and hidden meaning, of spaces and silences and hanging threads.
Delineating the effects of desire on a man and loneliness on a woman, Snow Country is ultimately a book about love and the loss of love. Although bare and skeletal in some respects, it is still a classical story that burns with the fire of passion and then grows as cold as the snowy climate in which it is set.
59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haiku in prose,
This review is from: Snow Country (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. Shimamura's attraction for the other young girl, Yoko, a friend and rival to Komako, is as contradictory. In her shyness and reserve she is desirable. She appears to him beautiful and pure, a delicate reflection in the window against the mountain landscape.
Nature and landscape are of great importance to Kawabata and articulated through Shimamura. Nature's beauty is felt more intensely by him than anything else. When he and Komako find themselves outdoors, they have nothing to say to each other. Yet even nature provokes contradictory emotions in Shimamura. "...he looked upon mountain climbing as almost a model of wasted effort. For that very reason it pulled at him with the attraction of the unreal."
Kawabata was one of Japan's most famous writers. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. His Nobel Lecture elucidates his deep affinity to and understanding of classical haiku poetry. Haiku represents a fundamental element of Japanese culture then and now. Snow Country has been described as haiku in prose. Kawabata uses a shorthand style for his descriptions, evoking simultaneously multiple senses, like colour and temperature, stillness and motion, attraction and rejection. Nature is all encompassing with people one component of the wider picture.
The novel is rich in symbolism and references to Japanese traditions and mythology. However, some are easier to identify than others. While accepting that the English language reader will miss some of the deeper meanings and connotations, Snow Country is a novel that opens a fascinating world and deservedly has an enviable place in international literature. It is difficult to comment on the quality of Seidensticker's translation. Still, as others have expressed, one wonders whether the translation could have contributed more to the novel's appreciation by the reader. 4.5 stars [Friederike Knabe]
67 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What are you really thinking, I wonder?,
This review is from: Snow Country (Paperback)Kawabata is one of Japan's most respected authors, and "Snow Country" is his masterpiece. However, that does not mean that this is a book for everyone, or that everyone will necessarily understand or enjoy the novel. In fact, I got my copy as a cast-off from a friend who said it was incredibly boring and he didn't want to keep it.
It is a demanding read, one that expects the reader to be able to catch the substance of the unsaid, the implied. Almost nothing is spoon-fed. There is no action, no crisis, nothing that most literary traditions has lead readers to expect from a novel. It demands patience, even though it is a slender volume.
Personally, I found it captivating, and intensely deep and moving. Having read other Kawabata, I was prepared for the subtlety of style and the sparseness of language and story that is his trademark. He is the inheritor of the Haiku, which implies with as few words as necessary. The emotional depth of the novel is incredibly deep, much deeper than many novels I have read who express with much more fanciful language. The Geisha and the Dilettante, the one who affects love but cannot know true love, and the one who gives herself to love even though she knows it cannot be. It is a passionless affair, yet intense. Like the snow country itself, the landscape of their hearts is sparse, yet life lies under the surface covering of insulation.
I did find the translation annoying and disappointing, and I was surprised to find such a lackluster translation on one of Japan's premier novels. The constant use of quotations for "mountain trousers," for instance, instead of just naming it once and using the Japanese term. I am sure that a better translation could capture the novel even better, and perhaps transport it for a new audience.
All in all, one of the best Japanese novels that I have read. Simply incredible, and worth the time. But remember your patience.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Rake's Non-Progress,
This review is from: Snow Country (Paperback)I studied Japanese for four years in college and as a senior, more years ago than I care to count, I read this novel in Japanese, one of only two I ever made it through. Recently, having forgotten everything about the novel and because I have forgotten too many characters to read in Japanese anymore, I re-read it in English. SNOW COUNTRY is nothing if not a strange work. At the risk of sounding snobbish or whatever, I have to say that it is stranger in English than in Japanese. Japanese allows for a great deal of vagueness and reading between the lines. English prefers definite words about definite events. So, as I read the novel again, I did wonder why I had found it so enthralling the first time and concluded that language had something to do with it. Nothing is definite. As usual, Kawabata is not strong on plot. An idle playboy-type (we never learn where his money comes from) visits a resort in the mountains of Western Japan, facing the Japan Sea, the snowiest region of the world. He meets an offbeat sort of geisha, Komako. He rather likes her: she likes him, maybe more than that, but the relationship is touchy. Everything is extremely vague, the surroundings are beautiful, and as always, the reader can enjoy the Japanese fascination with the tiniest details of the natural world. Komako, available and prone to drink, is contrasted to the distant Yoko, a pure girl, with a beautiful voice, who shows devotion to one man and to duty. The end perhaps underlines Kawabata's view of postwar society, his disappointment at what Japan had become. If you have read "Memoirs of a Geisha", this might be a satisfactory antidote---not that the former was bad, but it is an American viewpoint. This completely Japanese view of a geisha could be more realistic in terms of what the average geisha's life would have been like in the provinces, far from the splendid inns of Kyoto and Tokyo. If you like haiku, Mondrian, minimalist photography, you would like this novel. If however, your taste is Faulkner, Zola, Balzac, the Russians, then I doubt if you would enjoy SNOW COUNTRY.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So many themes, I don't know where to begin,
This review is from: Snow Country (Paperback)After completely hating (and saying so in a previous review) Kawabata's Sound of the Mountain, I wanted to find out why he was selected for the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was not disappointed again. Snow Country is a deep, multi-themed, and ultimately satisfying novella.
Kawabata tells the story of Shimamura, a married Tokyo denizen whose passion for the ballet and western dance is so strong that to actually behold a real performance would shatter the pristine dream he has imagined it to be, who travels to Japan's "snow country" and has a relationship with Komako, a young Geisha.
I imagine that I'm stretching the analogy, but the Buddhist teachings of impermanence and suffering are an overarching theme of this story. Everything changes. To resist that change is to bring suffering. Yet, throughout the story, every character seeks some comfort in holding onto the past, the ideal dream. When Komako realizes she is aging and the flower of youth is passing from her, she suffers greatly. When Yoko yearns for a lost love, she goes insane. Only Shimamura, who does not seem to desire the past but is satisfied with the present seems to come through this unscathed.
I'm not doing Snow Country justice by such a shallow interpretation, though.
Even knowing the whole of this story from the outset would not diminish the pleasure of reading this book. 5 stars, without any reservations.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and haunting novel, among the world's best,
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This review is from: Snow Country (Paperback)SNOW COUNTRY, the masterpiece of 1968 Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata, deserves its place among the finest novels of the 20th century. A tale of a heart-wrenching love affair between a wandering playboy and a geisha in a remote hot spring in Japan's northwest, SNOW COUNTRY quickly becomes more than it seems with the addition of a strange other girl, omnipresent even when she is offstage.
Kawabata maintains an element of mystery among each character, especially the enigmatic Yoko about whom even the careful reader can find out little until it all clicks in the end. But in spite of the complexity of their personalities, the characters do come alive and in the end their actions make total sense, even if the reader was baffled in the pages before. Make no mistake, SNOW COUNTRY is a difficult work, especially in translation, but its ending, involving a glorious epiphany for its protagonist, is transcendent and mystically beautiful.
In spite of the pains of confused love which forever torment Simamura and Komako, SNOW COUNTRY is full everywhere of beauty, especially the pure white landscape which is perpetually in the background. Kawabata presents such powerful images: Yoko reflected in the train window super-imposed on the blur of the countryside, moths dying in droves in the autumn, the fire consuming the theatre, and finally perhaps the most important scene in the novel, the "Heavenly River" descending from the sky straight into Simamura's soul. Kawabata writes with such precision and uses not a single unecessary word that it is as if this slim volume holds an entire world within it.
Regrettably this translation, the only one available in English, is incredibly poor. Edward Seidensicker is know for the quantity of his translations from Japanese, he tackled a ton of Japanese classics from authors as diverse as Kawabata and Lady Murasaki. He is not known for the quality of his translations. Case in a point, the ending: Seidensticker translates Komako's wail as "She's crazy", whereas in at least the Russian translation and the Esperanto translation it's rendered as "She'll go crazy" (future tense), which is important because it makes a reference to an earlier part of the novel. As Simamura is jostled in the crowd, slips, and has his rendevous with destiny, Seidensticker translates this section in an almost comical fashion, as if Simamura was a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel. Seidensticker wasn't really capable of translating a novel such as SNOW COUNTRY, which was written in a very austere and frigid style befitting its setting, because he couldn't help trying to add unnecessary warmth and texture to Kawabata's novel. I first read SNOW COUNTRY in the translation into Esperanto by Konisi Gaku, and I would in fact recommend that for Westerners. If English is one's only language, however, Seidensticker's translation, poor as it may be, is unfortunately the only option.
Independent of which translation one reads, it does bear saying that, just as with every other creation of the Japanese language, SNOW COUNTRY undoubtedly loses some of its essence in translation. Also, Japanese etiquette may seem nonsensical to Westerners. I notice I wasn't the only one driven mad by Komako saying "I'm going now," Simamura responding "Ok, fine, go," and then "She sat down." or Komako retorting "No, I'm staying." Nonetheless, these are no reasons not to experience this jewel of world literature.
I wholeheartedly recommend SNOW COUNTRY and truly hope that it becomes better known in the West. This novel leaves an indelible mark in one's soul, and its tragic passion juxtaposed with an uplifiting glimpse of higher reality stay with the reader long after Simamura is left under the Milky Way.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A poetic story illustrates a timeless tragedy.,
By A Customer
This review is from: Snow Country (Paperback)It has often been said Yasanuri Kawabata's books read like beautiful poems. In reading "Snow Country", it was easy to see why Kawabata's writing has earned this reputation. Kawabata uses beautiful images to illustrate simple truths about love, loneliness and the fragility of our existence. This theme seems to resonate in one of his opening scenes. Shimamure, one of the main characters looks at the reflection of a lovely woman's face on the window of a train traveling through the icy landscape of the "Snow County". Her reflection, floating above images of the passing, white, snow covered mountains reminds the reader of the fragility of beauty and the truth of life's fleeting nature. Kawabata's poignant images and his subtle character studies are pure genius.
The winter snow of the countryside seems to be a metaphor for Shinamura - the city gentleman - cold and sterile. Shinamura's hollow relationship with Komako - an "innocent" country geisha - is a modern tragedy. Komako willingness to freely offer her affections to the distant Shinamura is touching. However, Shinamura seems no more able to feel for Komako than he does for the "kotatsu" which warms his room. This bittersweet story about the relationship between the cold Shimura and the simple mountain geisha, komako is truly timeless. It is no wonder this author earned himself a Nobel Prize.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart of Decadence,
This review is from: Snow Country (Paperback)Yasunaki Kawabata was the first Japanese novelist to win the Nobel Prize for literature. He is not as good a novelist as his contemporary Juchiro Tanizaki or his predecessor Natsume Soseki (1867-1916). He was a extreme right-winger who committed suicide, not unlike his protege Mishima. His most famous work, the House of Sleeping Beauties, deal with an old impotent man who is introduced to a special sort of brothel filled with beautiful, drugged sleeping women. (Oddly enough, elements of this novel later appeared in a pornographic movie of the early nineties with the same name).
Snow Country is an interesting novel. The protagonist Shimamura is a married man and a dilettante, who has become an expert on the European ballet without actually ever seeing one. On a visit to the Snow Country he meets two beautiful young women; one is Yoko whom he sees on a train, the other is a geisha named Komako. He and Komako start on a relationship which both know will only last a few months. And so they do. Shimamura shows little passion, shows something more but not much more than polite concern, though he obviously sleeps with her. Komako clearly shows something different ("She walked ahead of him [to the bath] with her eyes on the floor, like a criminal being led away. As the bath warmed her, however, she became strangely gay and winsome, and sleep was out of the question.)
It is this deliberately ephemeral relationship which attracts Kawabata's interest, and it attracts ours. It is written in a typically austere and severe style, concentrating on a hypostatized Nature which does not relish in gross physical detail. Consider this description of a teakettle: "skillfully inlaid in silver with flowers and birds, and from it came the sound of wind in the pines. He could make out two pine breezes, as a matter of fact, a near one and a far one. Just beyond the far breeze he heard faintly the tinkling of a bell." This makes those details which do appear particularly striking: "Insects smaller than moths gathered on the thick white powder at her neck. Some of them died there as Shimamura watched." The novel ends with an image of nature. During a climatic fire Shimamura falls and sees the Milky May in the sky above him.
What is interesting in this novel is how Kawabata combines the tropes of classical Japanese literature, such as the aforementioned terseness and emphasis on an abstracted Nature, with a more modern interest in individual character. Obviously there is a gap between the Japanese and European right on the propriety of having mistresses, but in Kawabata there is no clear moral alternative mentioned to Shimamura's ultimately loveless behavior. Although Kawabata mentions the ideals of rural Japan existing the same time with time of modern tourism, this book does not obviously present an organic conservative ideal. The dialogue is terse, often unemotional. Like Jane Austen, it is a romance of pleasure, some desire, but little yearning and limited tenderness. As a portrait of cool if not cold lovelessness it is worthy of our attention.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dig those characters,
By A Customer
This review is from: Snow Country (Paperback)I am always impressed when writers successfully lets a character form and grow as the story goes, just using dialogue, events and some trains of thought. Kawabata lets you catch glimpse after glimpse of the characters in this novel and by the end you have a more or less sharp image of what they really are like. The beauty of it, I think, is that this image is neither complete nor directly incomplete, but more like a pond (if I may be so poetic), that is; you see the moving surface, you see the reflections and you sense the depth and maybe the distorted layers underneath. He gives you a chance to understand the characters but not the right to judge them.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of sadness in human relationships and wasted love,
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This review is from: Snow Country (Paperback)"Snow Country", by Yasunari Kawabata, translated by Edward Seidensticker, is the first book by this Japanese Nobel Prize winner that I have read.
I mention the translator because a non-Japanese speaker is totally dependent on the skill of the translator to capture the atmosphere, the nuances and the unspoken cultural aspects of the original Japanese. It goes without saying that a straightforward translation of words and grammar would most likely be very inadequate. This is true of any translation of fiction, not only this book.
With that caveat, I was struck with the simplicity of language and "spareness" of the writing. There is hardly a superfluous word, and very few adjectives or adverbs. I was reminded of the economy of Haiku and the simplicity of traditional Japanese gardens.
The story is simple in the extreme. A wealthy Japanese sophisticate and dilettante, Shimamura, spends his holidays in a hot springs inn in the "snow country" of western Japan. The "snow country" setting would have special resonances for Japanese readers and the translator explains its significance and other important cultural aspects (eg the hot springs inn and the geisha) to help the English reader get into the mind of a Japanese reader. Of course, this is almost a futile exercise, but the attempt is worth making.
Shimamura gets involved with a local geisha, Komako, who becomes very attached to him, although he does not reciprocate. Komako is a forlorn but appealing figure who is forced to make her own way in life as a hot springs geisha, bereft of family. Shimamura is married with children but he takes his holidays alone in the snow country.
There is no happy ending and no unhappy ending - although the book ends in tragedy. The ending, like much of the narrative, is ambiguous.
It is a book of great sadness in its human relationships and wasted love - and great beauty in its depiction of the physical landscape in the snow country. Imagery has great significance and the reader gets as much enjoyment from his impressions and intuitions as from the explicit text itself. This is the mark of a great writer.
Like all truly great books, you could read Snow Country several times and gain fresh insights and pleasures with each reading.
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Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (Paperback - January 30, 1996)