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Snow Country [Paperback]

Yasunari Kawabata , Edward G. Seidensticker
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 30 1996 Vintage International
Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country is widely considered to be the writer’s masterpiece: a powerful tale of wasted love set amid the desolate beauty of western Japan.
 
At an isolated mountain hot spring, with snow blanketing every surface, Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante meets Komako, a lowly geisha. She gives herself to him fully and without remorse, despite knowing that their passion cannot last and that the affair can have only one outcome. In chronicling the course of this doomed romance, Kawabata has created a story for the ages — a stunning novel dense in implication and exalting in its sadness. 

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Review

“Beautifully economical. . . . The haiku works entirely by implication; so, in this novel, using the same delicate, glancing technique, Mr. Kawabata probes a complicated human relationship.”
The Time Literary Supplement (London)
 
“Kawabata’s novels are among the most affecting and original works of our time.”
The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Yasunari Kawabata was born in Osaka in 1899. In 1968 he became the first Japanese writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of Japan’s most distinguished novelists, he published his first stories while he was still in high school, graduating from Tokyo Imperial University in 1924. His short story “The Izu Dancer,” first published in 1925, appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1955. Kawabata authored numerous novels, including Snow Country (1956), which cemented his reputation as one of the preeminent voices of his time, as well as Thousand Cranes (1959), The Sound of the Mountain (1970), The Master of Go (1972), and Beauty and Sadness (1975). He served as the chairman of the P.E.N. Club of Japan for several years and in 1959 he was awarded the Goethe-medal in Frankfurt. Kawabata died in 1972.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Haiku in prose Oct. 20 2006
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What are you really thinking, I wonder? Jan. 14 2004
Format: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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Snapshots from the snow country May 7 2003
By S. Park
Format:Paperback
There are no revelations, no unwindings, no developments present in this book. Other than the change of season marked by two visits of the male protagonist Shimamura to the snow country, there isn't even a sense of time. Instead offered is a collection of beautiful, serene, _static_ images. Alongside the somewhat monotone dialogues between Shimamura and Komako, images of the Japanese countryside (on Hokkaido island) are "displayed" rather than "described."
Characters in this novel are, so to say, lost (the Japanese have a long tradition of writing about lost characters, Murakami Haruki being the one of the latest of such authors). Komako, being a geisha and understanding that Shimamura is already married, cannot do anything. Shimamura, even after realizing he is in love with Komako, doesn't do anything. The beauty of their relationship lies in their inaction, indulgence, and pensiveness. These attributes were frozen into colorful yet subtle moments. I enjoyed such images.
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5.0 out of 5 stars So many themes, I don't know where to begin Nov. 20 2002
By raboof
Format: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.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Based on a real Onsen Geisha
I started reading this book because it was based on an onsen geisha by the name of Matsuei. You can see her picture on Wikipedia. Read more
Published on June 15 2011 by Messallus
4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle and Simple, but it offers alot
The plot is subtle, as it is was intended. The symbols and themes are countless. The language is simple but beautiful. Read more
Published on Nov. 24 2003 by Robert Sheppard
1.0 out of 5 stars Read if you enjoy Buddhist texts.
I was greatly disappointed by this book. I found the main character, Shimamaru, difficult at times to identify with, mostly because of his insentivity to the things going on around... Read more
Published on Oct. 19 2003 by William Wu
2.0 out of 5 stars Plain and unextraordinary
As the so-caled masterpiece of one of Japan's most renowned writer, and one of the only two who have been awared a Nobel prize for literature (so far), I had pretty high... Read more
Published on Sept. 21 2003 by Wilmington
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Thought Provoking
Snow Country is the story of Shimamura, a wealthy Tokyo denizen who is unable to love and his trip to a hot spring in the snow country of Western Japan. Read more
Published on April 19 2003 by Randyll McDermott
1.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely terrible
I'm being generous with the one star rating. I would've given it a zero but a rating that low is impossible. There was no plot to this book. Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2003 by Joe Julian
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pepe Pick
One of the best novels of the century.
Published on June 13 2002 by sparky
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad Beauty
I will admit that when I finished the book, my first thought was something along the lines of "What? That's the end?!? Read more
Published on Feb. 28 2002 by Charles E. Stevens
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart of Decadence
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... Read more
Published on Feb. 20 2002 by pnotley@hotmail.com
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