Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: Snow Country

Snow Country
Yasunari Kawabata

With the brushstroke suggestiveness and astonishing grasp of motive that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature, Yasunari Kawabata tells a story of wasted love set amid the desolate beauty of western Japan, the snowiest region on earth. It is there, at an isolated mountain hotspring, that the wealthy sophisticate Shimamura meets the geisha Komako, who gives herself to him without regrets, knowing that their passion cannot last.

Shimamura is a dilettante of the feelings; Komako has staked her life on them. Their affair can have only one outcome. Yet, in chronicling its doomed course, one of Japan's greatest modern writers creates a novel dense in implication and exalting in its sadness. Snow Country is a genuine masterpiece of twentieth-century literature.

First Sentence:
The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country.

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 Komako and the snow country represents the old Japan, the one with traditional values such as Shintoism, Confucian hierarchy, and the traditional role of women. While Shimamura and technology represents the modern Japan because Shimamura is a business man, he rides a train to and from his home in Tokyo, and the use of telegraph systems in the snow country. Modern technology can also be seen as killing the old Japan because a movie projector burns down a silkworm cocoon storage barn and possibly kills one of the main characters.

Honestly, I kind of had a hard time with this book, even though it is a very easy read, only 192 pages. The storyline is very confusing and time will fast forward without much warning. I was also really disappointed with the ending, it is way to abrupt and has no sense of closure, I turned the last page and thought "really that's it?". Although in my history class we decided this was the author's way to take another jab at western culture because western books spelled everything out for the reader and he wanted his readers to think for themselves. Over time I did start to gain a soft spot for Komako even though she did come off as a bit crazy and an alcoholic, but I was unable to feel anything for Shimamura who was remained cold and detached throughout the whole book.

I would only recommend this book to people who already posses a knowledge about Japanese culture and history or posses an extreme love of Japan. I think one of the main reasons I was able to gain anything from this book is because it was assigned in a history of Japan class and I had the teacher for guidance.

Favorite Quotes:
But even more than at the diary, Shimamura was surprised at her statement that she had carefully cataloged every novel and short story she had read since she was fifteen or sixteen. The record already filled ten notebooks.

"Do you think it's right not to say good-by to the man you yourself said was on the very first page of the very first volume of your dairy? This is the very last page of his."

"I don't tell lies just because people might be listening."

Title: Snow Country
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
Paperback: 192 pages
ISBN 10: 0679761047
ISBN 13: 978-0679761044
Buy It: Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble
Review Number: 10


Ali said...

This looks like an interesting book, but one you'd have to be in the right mood for. Thanks for the review, and good luck with the Diversity Rocks Asian heritage books contest!

Anna said...

Sorry this one was a bit disappointing for you. I normally enjoy books about Japan and its culture, but I think I'll pass on this one.

Diary of an Eccentric

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

I really like the format of your blog! Cool review, too.
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of HOPE..
Ch. 1 is online!

I Heart Monster said...

Pssst... I've given you an award

susan said...

Jessica, I appreciate your honesty and your perspective. I think it is easy to forget that part of what we get out of a read is dependent on what experiences and perspective we bring to it. That is what I took away from my literature courses at least. Like how you formatted your review, too. And the overall layout of your site entices me to come back. Thank you.

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