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By Yasunari Kawabata
Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker
New York: Perigee Books by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981
ISBN: 0-399-50553-3
173 pages

Bob Corbett
January 2015

This is a sparse novel in which relatively little action happens and there is not very much development.

Shimamura is an independently wealthy manfrom the big city and upon occasion he goes into the snow country of Japan to a relatively small resort he knows in mountains. He is satisfactorily married at home, but travels to this resort to be with a geisha to whom he is deeply attracted, but yet keeps himself fairly distant from.

His financial situation is such that he doesn’t really have to work, but he does have a fairly consuming hobby, he is a serious fan of occidental ballet, even an expert, but he’s never SEEN one, he’s only read about them and heard records. In some sense I think this “hobby” of his is parallel to much of his life. He sort of never quite “lives” it or “experiences” it, but plans it and knows lots about it.

Komako is the geisha that he is deeply so attracted to. She is young, not more than 20, and plays the samisen. However, she does drink a great deal and is often drunk.

Author Kawabata tells us:

“. . . Shimamura’s love affair is the perfect symbol of a denial of love. . .”

And indeed the novel reads that way. He likes to be with her, and she him, yet they never seem to make love and are often not even very nice to each other.

On this particular trip he also becomes somewhat drawn to Yoko, another geisha, a good deal younger than Komako.

Very little happens in the story, and yet the ending is dramatic. The younger Yoko dies in a fire in the local theater and Komako risks her own life to pull her out. The narrator is with her during this tragedy.

This is a strange short novel of people looking for love but seemingly not having the ability to create it, yet never ceasing to search for love and to try to find a way toward it.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett