Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata 1956

Assigned as reading for English 165, Aestheticism and Modernism, being taught by Professor Philip Fisher at Harvard, Snow Country is a dreamy, lyrical novel in which the primary action are the thoughts of the main character Shimamura.  He is a businessman with a family in Tokyo who visits the geisha, Komako, each year taking the train which emerges from a long tunnel into another world.  With only a few characters and with essentially no real action until the warehouse fire that ends the book, this is considered to be Kawabata’s masterpiece and largely responsible for his being named Japan’s first Nobel Prize in Literature winner in 1958.  As in his book of short stories that I have previously read, the prose is quiet and flowing, almost languid, as we learn about Shimamura’s love for Komako and Yuko’s love for Yukio, both loves complex and destined to be tragic.  The book is a model of the 19th C. literary critic Walter Pater’s aesthetic, one which emphasizes the moment and new experience, which denies continuous time and stresses the exotic and the senses.  In Snow Country, the aesthetic is one of superimposition, distance, mirrors, light, time, and ‘the clean’ which repeatedly intervenes.  I found the book to be relatively inaccessible, though Fisher’s lecture helped greatly.

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