Friday, December 14, 2007

'Snow Country'

by Yasunari Kawabata

Fiction/Japanese Literature/Classic
First published in Japanese in instalments between 1935-47, final version published in 1948, first English translation in 1956
Vintage International, trade pb, 180 p.
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1968
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.
Reading this really made me regret that I can’t read Japanese (or speak it for that matter). Although Edward G. Seidensticker is well regarded as a translator, I got the feeling that it would be more beautiful, more lyrical in the original. Kawabata’s style is often compared to haiku poetry and you get definite glimpses of that here but I couldn’t help wondering constantly what it read like in Japanese. So throughout the story I could never quite forget that I was reading a translation. That said, I enjoyed the book and many of the images from it still linger in my mind. It’s a story of beauty and sadness that should be savoured, not rushed.
But, drawn to her at that moment, he felt a quiet like the voice of the rain flow over him.
When he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, the Nobel committee apparently cited 3 of his novels including Snow Country. I look forward to reading the other two (Thousand Cranes and The Old Capital) at some point.

My Rating: 3.5/5

(#49 for 2007, Japanese Literature Challenge #1, Japan Challenge #5, Book Awards Challenge #2, Fall Into Reading Challenge #2)


  1. I know and have read Kawabata. And also Mishima. They are my two japanese references.

  2. I often wonder how much of the author's "voice" is lost in translation, if at all, when I read a translated book.

    This does sound like a good one. Thanks for the review!

  3. quintarantino- I haven't read Mishima yet but do plan to, next year hopefully.

    Wendy- From the few reviews I read, it seems the translator captured his voice quite well. Didn't stop me wondering though. :)

  4. This sounds really good. I've read Thousand Cranes and actually felt that I was missing something too. I wonder if it's just his style that is well, more poetic perhaps and just harder to translate? I don't know.

  5. Iliana- It does seem that Kawabata's style is very poetic. So I imagine it is very hard to translate and not the kind of book to read through quickly. I'll have to try Thousand Cranes sometime.

  6. Tanabata - Glad to read the review. I too wonder (when reading Seidensticker's translation of Thousand Cranes) how much of the poetry of his words I am loosing in translation. Thank you for articulating that feeling. I am going to put Snow Country on my list of books to be read now.

  7. Kay- When I was comparing translators for Tale of Genji (which I still haven't read yet) Seidensticker seemed to be the most literal of the 3 translations available. More true to the original text but occasionally clunky because of it. I guess it's a compromise we have to accept.


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