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Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

Snow Country (1935)

by Yasunari Kawabata

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,436573,954 (3.73)157
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.… (more)

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» See also 157 mentions

English (52)  French (4)  Dutch (1)  All languages (57)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Snow Country was one of the three works cited by the Nobel Prize (1968). It is a work of sharp contrasts. An older man and younger woman. She hot and he cold. She rural and he urban. She poor and he rich. Throughout descriptions are contrasting water against trees, etc.. everything seems to be hard up against something else and where they meet attention is placed. I would need to read this many times to appreciate the complexities and subtleties, it left me bewildered yet intrigued.
1 vote Stbalbach | Oct 2, 2019 |
Atmospheric. Bizarre. But yet interesting ( )
  kakadoo202 | Jun 9, 2019 |
As I read this book I couldn't help reflecting on the large gap between Eastern and Western cultures. Or at least there was at the time this book was written which was (mostly) prior to World War II. Westerners really don't have an equivalent to the geisha; perhaps the French with their mistresses come close but the geisha is not committed to one man. The geisha is supposed to be artistic as well as beautiful. She chooses who she will spend her time with and what she will do with that person. Even after reading this book I don't think I truly understand the reason women became geishas but it gave me a bit more of a glimpse of their life.

This novel is set in a mountain valley quite far from Tokyo which gets abundant snow in the winter time. People (well men mostly) come here to spend time hiking, skiing, partying and taking baths in the hot springs. Shimamura is a wealthy dilettante who comes periodically to the valley and spends time with Komako. She was not a geisha when they first met but by the second visit she had become one. Komako tells Shimamura that she became a geisha in order to pay the medical bills of the son of a music teacher with whom she lived. She denies that the young man was her fiance but Shimamura has heard she was. She certainly seems to be unattached to him; a young woman named Yoko spends far more time with him and after his death she visits his grave every day. It is hard to say exactly what Shimamura and Komako feel for each other. Shimamura says when he was away from her he thought of Komako all the time but now that he is in the valley he seems to be interested in Yoko more than Komako. And while Komako spends a lot of time with Shimamura she also, on occasions, refuses to stay with him. It's a very complicated life for all the characters.

Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the jury mentioned Snow Country explicitly in their citation. The writing is exquisite but understated much like a haiku. The introduction (written by someone only denoted by the intials E.G.S.) alludes to this saying "The haiku manner presents a great challenge to the novelist. The manner is notable for its terseness and austerity, so that his novel must rather be like a series of brief flashes in a void. In Snow Country Kawabata has chosen a theme that makes a meeting between haiku and the novel possible." It was an interesting book but I'm not going to be rushing out to find other novels by Kawabata. ( )
2 vote gypsysmom | Nov 7, 2018 |
I read Kawabata's 'The Master of Go' and rather enjoyed it. This short novel I admired rather than enjoyed. In theory, I should have loved it as it contained all the right ingredients - doomed love story, poetic prose, anti-heroic characters, evocative setting, etc. - but I found it took me a long time to read for such a short book. I think that the main problem was that I just couldn't engage with the male protagonist, a privileged, duplicitous and frankly irritating waster. Maybe I need to read it again.

This star system is problematic. I'm sure that this novella is worth more than three stars but having awarded four to 'The Master of Go', I had no place left to go but three. Perhaps I should stop awarding stars! ( )
  PZR | Jul 28, 2018 |
Snow country has a complex writing history - Kawabata tinkered with it over a lengthy period from 1935 onwards, publishing bits of the story in a least five different journals in the process. It didn't appear as a complete book in its present form until 1948. (Kawabata returned to it once more at the end of his life, reworking it as one of his "palm-of-the-hand" micro-stories.)

The book relates a series of visits by an urban dilettante, Shimamura, to an obscure mountain hot-springs resort in the west of Honshu. As Seidensticker delicately explains: "The Japanese seldom goes to a hot spring for his health, and he never goes for 'the season,' as people once went to Bath or Saratoga. He may ski or view maple leaves or cherry blossoms, but his wife is usually not with him. The special delights of the hot spring are for the unaccompanied gentleman. No prosperous hot spring is without its geisha and its compliant hotel maids."

Shimamura, true to type, has left his wife and child in Tokyo (they are mentioned a couple of times in the book, but we never get to meet them) and orders up a geisha. It turns out to be a busy time, and what he gets is Komako, who when they first meet is a kind of semi-professional, "a girl who was not a geisha but who was sometimes asked to help at large parties". Shimamura is captivated by her aura of old-fashioned Japanese virtue and cleanness - "The impression the woman gave was a wonderfully clean and fresh one. It seemed to Shimamura that she must be clean to the hollows under her toes" - and starts to fall in love with his image of Komako as a simple country girl at the same time as he is physically attracted and aesthetically repelled by her occupation. The story is complicated by Shimamura's glimpses of another young woman, Yoko, whom he also instantly idealises, especially when he discovers she is in mourning for her lost lover.

Kawabata keeps feeding us little bits of description that echo Shimamura's erotic confusion: on the one side the beauty of nature and the changing seasons; on the other the hardships of life under the snow for the local people, the economic uncertainties of tourism, traditional crafts and the geisha profession. Even the insects are made to remind us that they only have the briefest of spells of being beautiful before their lives end.

This may be a geisha romance, but it's a distinctly unromantic one. ( )
2 vote thorold | May 22, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Snow Country is a work of beauty and strangeness, one of the most distinguished and moving Japanese novels to have appeared in this country.
added by GYKM | editNew York Herald Tribune

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yasunari Kawabataprimary authorall editionscalculated
Durán, CésarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gergely ÁgnesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kivimeis, YrjöTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lamberti, LucaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nagae, Neide HissaeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ouwehand, C.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ouwehand, C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seidensticker, Edward G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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