Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

Snow Country

Snow Country is a small, rich novel by Yasunari Kawabata.  Kawabata, partially in reaction to earlier, more verbose authors, and partially to evoke emotions over describing events, wrote the novel in a sparse style reminiscent of haiku – a short string of words meant to create an impression, a fleeting feeling, a juxtaposition.

The “snow country” of the title refers to the remote western part of Honshu where the story takes place.  The area is known for the large amount of snow that falls in the winter.  The area is also known for the small towns and hot springs that provide a break for city-dwellers willing to make the long train ride.  The hot spring inns are serviced by geisha – not the hyper refined and artistic geisha from the larger cities, but provincial geisha that are not particularly talented as entertainment and far closer to the label “prostitute” than their urban counterparts.

The story centers around the love affair between Shimamura and a geisha, Komako.  Shimamura is a wealthy but directionless man who fancies himself an expert on Western-style ballet – he has extensively studied the subject and ponders writing a book, although he has never seen a single performance.  Komako is a provincial geisha who, even though she tries to better her craft, knows that she will always be stuck in a backwater, dependent of the brief visits of men like Shimamura.

Digital Capture

Komako and Shimamura’s relationship deepens as they meet over several seasons.  Both the weather and location are part of the story, as their relationship deepen in summer and autumn until the final scene in winter.  As in the previous Kawabata novel I have read, Thousand Cranes, what happens is not as important as how it is written.  The ending is a bit incomprehensible, especially based on what had come before, and there is no real resolution.  The point of the novel is reading it slowly, for the language and writing.  I somewhat prefer Thousand Cranes to Snow Country because, though it is written in the same style, it is more comprehensible, and isn’t quite as obscure.  If you are going to choose one over the other I would choose Thousand Cranes, especially if the tea ceremony interests you.


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