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The Dancing Girl of Izu and Other Stories Paperback – August 29, 1998
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The remaining stories are much shorter, ranging from 3 to 10 pages each. Birthplace is an interesting story of abandonment and leaving one's home behind. Burning the Pine Boughs is as much about reading between the lines as reading what's on the page. Oil is a deep work of overcoming childhood loss.
Three common themes permeate these stories. First is the idea of an imperfect, sour or unatainable love. Second is the idea that at least somehow many of them are autobiographical. Third is that much is left unsaid in the stories. In a sense they are a prose form of Zen art, where what is unsaid can be more important than what is put to paper. Despite being distinct, one can read inferences between the stories (the hands for prayer in both Master of Funerals and Hands, for example) and perhaps that is enough to tie them all together.
Although Snow Country is commonly referred to as Kawabata's greatest accomplishment, these stories were more accessible and emotionally powerful.
Sorry, I wanted to like it. My 'stars' rating isn't about any grand kind of literary merit, just about how much I liked it, and mostly didn't.
To a Western mind, this collection does not make for easy reading. I found myself almost mentally scratching between words and syllables for what might ordinarily leap off the page. And while there may well be a certain reward in this kind of exercise, I would caution you to undertake it with no background distractions – and with a head fully primed for concentration.
“Imagining myself at sixteen, sitting beside my dying grandfather and writing in my diary as if sketching from nature – it is quite strange” (p. 66). This quote, at close to the end of the second piece (titled “Diary of My Sixteenth Year”) in this collection, is possibly the best evidence for something I’ve always suspected – namely, that we grieve at a person’s death not for the dead, but rather for our loss and for the vacuum that may now come to exist in our lives as a result of the former occupant’s forced exit from a place in it. Is it any wonder that we have, at the very least, mixed feelings about a person who commits suicide – as Kawabata himself did at the age of seventy-two?
“The third anniversary of Grandfather’s death is approaching, but his memorial tablet in the Buddhist altar has probably tumbled into the rat urine” (p. 93). So concludes Part One of this book, which is largely Yasunari Kawabata’s personal memoir – and, as such, well worth the attention of anyone with a particular interest in this artist’s life.
Part Two is a phantasmagoria of thumbnail sketches, which are described on the front flap of the book jacket as “palm-of-the-hand” stories. I must confess that most of them are either over my head or so far afield of my literary experience that I could not, here and now, pass judgment on their caliber.
The story itself is superb, a coming of age story every bit as great as Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, although it couldn't be more different in tone. The rest of the book consists of other stories written between 1923 and 1929, and "Diary of My Sixteenth Year", an account of the time when Kawabata was caring for his dying grandfather, who had taken him in when Kawabata's parents died when he was three. "Diary of My Sixteenth Year" is of primarily historical interest. The remaining twenty-one stories, all of them quite short, are quite good, as well.
I know no Japanese, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of J. Martin Holman's translation, but I can definitely say that he and Kawabata have together produced a work of great literature here.