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The Master of Go [Paperback]

Yasunari Kawabata
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 28 1996 Vintage International
Go is a game of strategy in which two players attempt to surround each other’s black or white stones. Simple in its fundamentals, infinitely complex in its execution, Go is an essential expression of the Japanese spirit. And in his fictional chronicle of a match played between a revered and heretofore invincible Master and a younger, more modern challenger, Yasunari Kawabata captured the moment in which the immutable traditions of imperial Japan met the onslaught of the twentieth century.

The competition between the Master of Go and his opponent, Otaké, is waged over several months and layered in ceremony. But beneath the game’s decorum lie tensions that consume not only the players themselves but their families and retainers—tensions that turn this particular contest into a duel that can only end in death. Luminous in its detail, both suspenseful and serene, The Master of Go is an elegy for an entire society, written with the poetic economy and psychological acumen that brought Kawabata the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker

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"This novel is one of modern literature's greatest, most poignant elegies" Washington Post "Kawabata's narrative spirals through the book's events in ruminative glides and turns... There is a kind of low-key daring, an austere, autumnal nobility, in Kawabata's tale" Time "An archetypal saga... there are storms and landscapes as cool, as luminous, as any in Japanese paintings and woodcuts" The New Yorker --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Yasunari Kawabata, winner of the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature, was one of Japan's most distinguished novelists. Born in Osaka in 1899, he published his first stories while he was still in high school. Among his major novels published across the world are Snow Country (1956), Thousand Cranes (1959), The Sound of the Mountain (1972), and Beauty and Sadness (1975). Kawabata was found dead, by his own hand, in 1972. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Black Stones and White Stones May 4 2002
I have read five of Kawabata's books now and I do believe that this on is my favorite which is pretty amazing since this book basically centers around two people playing a game of Go.
Although the back of the book says that it is fiction, that is not altogether true. Yasunari Kawabata actually did write a series of articles for Tokyo and Osaka newspapers about the Master of Go and his last game against a much younger opponent. Although the opponent's real name was Kitani not Otake. Kawabata, however, did add abit of fiction to it. He changed his name and made the Master of Go a much nicer person.
Why is this book a good read? That is hard to say, but the Go match seemed to me to be just as tense as the last game of the world series. It has been pointed out before, but I must say again that the underlying story is actually moe important than the actual story. It is true that the story is about a young man defeating the Invincible master, but it is also a book of change. As the reader reads through the pages he or she sees how Kawabata made this story of a Go match something much more. He shows us how the old Japanese order was slowly fadeing and something new was coming to take its place. Good Book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Record of a single game of Go April 17 2004
If another writer has written "The Master of Go", a true story about the competition between the "invincible" Master of Go and a much-younger opponent in the Master's retirement match, and intense single game that lasted for more than six-months, perhaps they could have used the game to launch a sweeping metaphor of the fading Meji-era of Japan giving way to the modern era, or a struggle of youth and age or something of the sort. The game itself might have taken second seat to whatever greater picture the author painted.
Instead, because this is Kawabata, we have an intimate portrait of three people, the two players and the author himself, basic and alive and honest human beings. Of course, there is a bit of metaphor and conclusions can be drawn, but ultimately the three people do not require any grandeur beyond there immediate status as human beings. It is enough.
The Master of Go himself, the highest available rank in the official Go association, is a portrait of obsession and dedication. He is only comfortable playing games, and even amidst his failing health and the demands of his retirement challenge, he ensnares anyone around him in any game possible, be in Mah Jong or Billiards. His opponent, a young yet high ranking challenger, has fought his way through a year-long tournament for the honor of being the opponent in the Master's final match. High strung, and with health issues of his own, he brings everything he has to defeat the Master in his last game. The author, a newspaper reporter assigned to cover the match which is being sponsored by his paper, unable to penetrate the minds of the two players, lays open his own feelings and interpretations while retaining a newspaperman's eye for reporting facts rather than speculation.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Change of an era Sept. 11 2002
In this book, the game between the Master and the challenger symbolizes the real-world friction between the older Japan--rooted in tradition, honor, and culture--and the emerging modern Japan--espousing rationality, the letter rather than the spirit of the law, etc. The personification of these traits, in the somewhat fictionalized players of a real, famous Go match, rivets the reader to the page.
The writer's style--the author won a Nobel Prize for another work--connotes these complex themes with simple prose. Translating this work must have been a challenge. To read it in the original Japanese would be rewarding.
No background in Go is necessary to understand the novel. For those who are curious, however, the version of the Go in the Yahoo! Games section gives a suitable introduction to the game. If you play a few beginner, 9x9, games prior to or during your reading of the book, it will help you visualize the scenes.
The human power of this book stirs the reader; some scenes I shall never forget. For anyone who has strived to master something--even if only themselves--this book will prove a poignant reminder of the tug-of-war between teacher and student, defender and challenger, the retiring and the upcoming generations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sense of reality July 30 2001
Kawabata is more difficult to translate into english than say someone like Mishima. He lets us view a pre-war Japan mind set that can sometimes seem a little alien to the westerner. This is his difficulty and his genius. The courtly aristocratic Go master playing against the much younger more modern challenger lets us see in microcosm the change in Japan from the pre-war aristocracy to a more egalitarian society. Kawabata is careful to show good and bad sides of both these individual Go players. Much is lost and a little is gained in this transistion for Japan. That is the impression Kawabata gives in this narrative of a late 1930s Go championship game. This novel is mostly non fiction and is told in a light aesthetic style. In reading this I am reminded a little of the 1972 Fischer vs Spassky Chess match in Iceland. I was a teenage novice chess enthusiast at the time and the reports of the many disagreements kept me glued to the nightly news. The disagreements in this Go match of course were nothing to compare to that famous Chess match. The author was covering this Go match for a newspaper and he was on the scene as an eye-witness, because of this the narrative carries a sense of reality not often found in fiction. Quite simply a mesmerizing read.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Master of Go
I recently finished reading this book for the second time. It's quite and easy read, but very enjoyable. Read more
Published 21 months ago by glen cochrane
3.0 out of 5 stars "Go Figure" Excellent Concept; Poor Execution
This could have been one of the best books to ever emerge from Japan: If the author had interpolated each chapter with reminsces by the aging player, Shusai ("Grand... Read more
Published on July 7 2001 by jack schaaf
3.0 out of 5 stars A Poignant Character Study
This is a novel about a man who has devoted his life to only one thing, and who has nothing left when that is taken away from him. Read more
Published on May 21 2001 by Immanuel A. Magalit
5.0 out of 5 stars profound, honest masterpiece of style and subtlety
In my opinion, this is the most complex of Kawabata's books. Kawabata's presentation of the eternal conflict between rapidly vanishing Japanese traditional culture (accelerated by... Read more
Published on May 17 2001 by Boris Aleksandrovsky
4.0 out of 5 stars Japanese Culture à Go-go
In 1938, a go match was played over six months in 14 sessions at several different locations in Japan. Read more
Published on July 10 2000 by Bob Newman
5.0 out of 5 stars Slow moving but spiritually rewarding
Kawabata's 'The Master of Go' is a moving, at times agonizing, cultural depiction of the old v. new in Japan. Read more
Published on April 17 2000 by Jeffery D Berg
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book of all time...
I've read many books in my life, but none of them surpass the beauty, elegance, and creativity embodied in "The Master of Go. Read more
Published on May 15 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars A story that transcend cultures, and culture itself
Kawabata's beautiful narrative mirrors the direction of east asian culture, and perhaps world culture at large, where the refinements and subtle ways of the fallen aristocracy is... Read more
Published on March 28 1999 by
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing drama of old versus new
even if you know nothing about go, this book is poetic, beautiful but amazingly tense and savage at times. Read more
Published on Oct. 4 1998 by vic spicer
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