Edel Grace

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Yasunari Kawabata

Book Review: Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata

Oct 29, 2018 | Comments

Disclaimer: This post contains sensitive themes. Read at your own risk.

Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata

Love as sickness and immorality, sex as entrapment and revenge—these are the themes that the Nobel Prize-winning author of Snow Country dramatizes with such coolly mesmerizing power in this novel. At its heart is is a destructive love affair between a married writer and a teenage girl that continues to haunt both of them more than twenty years after their last embrace—and whose lingering bitterness poisons everyone around them.

What begins as a sentimental reunion between the aging Oki Toshio and the reclusive artist Otoko Ueno escalates into a sinister erotic vendetta. For Keiko, the strange, intense young girl who is Otoko’s protegee and lover, is determined to avenge the older woman’s past humiliation—even if that means using her own beauty as a weapon. Shifting unpredictably between tenderness and obsession, serenity and savagery, Beauty and Sadness confirms Kawabata’s reputation as a modern Japanese master who can turn the tightening of an obi into something infinitely suggestive and perverse.

Kawabata haunts me. How apt, considering by the time this blog post is published, it’s nearly Hallowe’en.

This is the third Kawabata book that I’ve read. I just keep coming back for more. Every time I find myself in the library, I wander over to the “K” authors and see if there’s anything there by Kawabata.

There is a pattern in Kawabata’s works. His characters are largely unlikeable and one-dimensional, especially the protagonist. What is with Kawabata and writing useless men as protagonists? Because Oki is the most boring and dull protagonist.

Kawabata, however, redeems himself in his prose. Even with these heavily flawed characters, Kawabata manages to make me feel these character’s struggles and I can sympathize with them because he can portray them so well.

Concerning the controversial subject matter, I did not read the summary before reading this book. When it was revealed that Oki was a 30-something-year-old man and Otoko was just 16 when their affair started, I was startled. I don’t want to say Kawabata doesn’t make a big deal about it because he does. The book essentially revolves around the messy aftermath of Otoko and Oki’s relationship.

Otoko is undeniably broken after. She miscarriages with Oki’s child and is sent to a mental institution. She becomes a successful painter and begins a relationship with a young woman (girl? I don’t know how old she is) named Keiko. In many ways, this relationship mirrors Otoko’s relationship with Oki.

In a way, Kawabata forces you to accept the fact that Oki had done this to Otoko. He does romanticize it too much for my comfort (Otoko continues to pine over Oki even twenty years later despite all he put her through) but he does not neglect to show how harmful the relationship was.

Keiko is the character who realizes how despicable Oki is and she tries to get revenge. I was torn in a couple places. Even though Keiko claims to want revenge against Oki, I felt like Keiko was really getting revenge on Otoko. I think, deep down, Keiko knew that Otoko did not love Keiko or did not love her as deeply as she did Oki.

Honestly, Keiko is the weakest point in the story for me. I did not care for her one bit. I saw the ending coming a mile away. Keiko and Oki’s son go out for a boat ride. Oki’s son presumably drowns but Keiko lives. I can’t help but feel Keiko was malicious enough to plan it out. It was the highest form of revenge. Otoko has her own child taken away from her. Oki must feel the same pain as well.

Overall, not Kawabata’s strongest. But I relish these melodramatic, melancholic, love-stricken stories of his.

Book Review: Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

Oct 1, 2018 | Comments

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

At an isolated mountain hot spring, with snow blanketing every surface, Shinamura, 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.

The summary of this book captures the essence of Snow Country perfectly. This book is dripping in implication. The characters are never straightforward. They all keep secrets or they are just distant enough from each other that you know as much as the narrator knows. Even if the characters state their feelings clearly, there is some hidden layer beneath the words that you know to be true. Honestly, all the implications kills me.

The sadness kills me as well. I was so emotionally affected by Thousand Cranes that I immediately sought out another one of Kawabata’s novels. There is something addicting about how Kawabata portrays sadness. Kawabata is no stranger to sorrow and he conveys it so beautifully.

I remember reading about Kawabata a while ago before I read any of his works. For some reason, I was reading about seppuku (might have been because one of my friends told me that samurais used to drink tea beforehand so they could empty their bowels before committing seppuku, cool fact) and I was reading about the last recorded instance of seppuku. The accomplished poet, writer, actor, and director Yukio Mishima was the last and he was a friend of Kawabata’s. It is said that Kawabata was haunted by Mishima’s ghost so much so that he in turn also committed suicide (although not by seppuku).

After reading Snow Country I went ahead and read some more about Kawabata. One article talks about his first love and how it fell apart. It was tragic.

While it seems so simple, two people are caught in a passionate but illicit affair, there is tragedy seeping in every single word, gesture, and thought in this book. It’s hard for me to think about what even happens in this book because I was just so affected by it all.

Kawabata really knows how to write. I’m losing my ability to write because I just can’t come up with any words to describe it. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

Sep 10, 2018 | Comments

Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

While attending a traditional tea ceremony in the aftermath of his parents’ deaths, Kikuji encounters his father’s former mistress, Mrs. Ota. At first Kikuji is appalled by her indelicate nature, but it is not long before he succumbs to passion—a passion with tragic and unforeseen consequences, not just for the two lovers, but also for Mrs. Ota’s daughter, to whom Kikuji’s attachments soon extend. Death, jealousy, and attraction convene around the delicate art of the tea ceremony, where every gesture is imbued with profound meaning

The past will always follow you. The main character, Kikuji, learns this first hand in Thousand Cranes. After the death of his father, he is pursued by women from his father’s past. There is Chikako, a mistress that his father did not see for long and who constantly meddles in Kikuji’s personal affairs. Then there is his father’s main mistress, Mrs. Ota, and her daughter, Fumiko. These three women are haunted by Kikuji’s father and turn to Kikuji to express their guilt, shame, and envy.

What really captured me about this book was just how irritating these characters were. Chikako was just downright annoying with her constant pestering. Mrs. Ota seemed utterly useless, just crying and (the way I interpreted it) longing for Kikuji’s dead father. I had some hope in Fumiko, who seemed like the most normal out of the three women despite her insistence on absorbing the shame of her mother’s affair with Kikuji’s father. Then there is Kikuji who does nothing and whose only purpose is to serve as a vessel to experience the stories of these three women. I have never disliked so many characters in one book. I also have never wished for redemption for the characters so intensely.

The real kicker about this little novel, however, is how it is written. Kawabata’s prose is hauntingly beautiful. I could feel his words to the core. When Fumiko threw down the Shino, I could sense the desperation and the sorrow. I could picture this woman and the expression on her face, and how her arms would carry the burden of the Shino and fling it to the ground, heavy. It was such a delight to read.

I will say that I feel like I should be over the trope of the frail, overly emotional Japanese women who changes a man’s perspective on life only to, in the end, commit suicide. I don’t know why this is so prominent in the Japanese novels that I have read. It must be cultural and I can firmly say that I don’t get it at all. It does make for good stories, even if it makes it a little infuriating.

Thousand Cranes was a quick read and I devoured it. Admittedly, I picked this book up because I thought it was Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. When I read the summary at the back of the book, I realized it wasn’t that book at all but I decided to take it out anyway. I made a good choice, I think.

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My name is Edel Grace Altares. My programming interests include full stack development and back end development. My languages of choice are Python and Java. Outside of programming I enjoy crocheting, video games, cats, historical fiction, and reading.

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