Snow Country
by Yasunari Kawabata

A Review by Scott finished Oct. 17, 2002

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country is one of the most unique novels I have read in years. The combination of the style, as well as the exploration I was taken on through a world I had never before experienced was truly fascinating. Though the story left me confused at times, in the end, merely the superb craft with which it was weaved made the read completely worthwhile.

First of all, I must admit that I had a difficult time engaging myself with the material as I began reading it. The novel is very cold, and all of the characters are very far removed, not only from the reader, but from each other as well. Obviously, then, the setting of the book in the snow country was very fitting. We see this very quickly in Shimamura when it describes his vast knowledge of occidental dance, even though he has never been to a live performance of one. "Nothing could be more comfortable than writing about the ballet from books" (25). Furthermore, we see that Shimamura is not only remote in respect to such an academic fascination, but also in respect to his relationships: "...and yet it was also possible that, hardly knowing it, he was treating the woman exactly as he treated the occidental dance" (25). In other words, Shimamura would rather encounter woman impersonally, as a mere fantasy through which he can escape, rather than actually experiencing them for what they truly are. The fact that a person could actually do this, that they could live there life so removed from any passion, and from any meaningful relationship, whether it be one of love or friendship, is extremely bothersome to me. I enjoy the company of others, and I thrive off of my passion for music and literature. Without such things I would be a much unhappier person. Interestingly, Shimamaru not only seems to keep himself emotionally removed from women, but he also idolizes them. This is evident when on page 32, we read, "As it became clear to Shimamura that the had from the start wanted only this woman, and that he had taken his usual roundabout way of saying so, he began to see himself as rather repulsive and the woman as all the more beautiful."

The development of Shimamura, however, was not the only unique and enjoyable aspect of Snow Country. Another of the hardest parts for me to deal with was the style and syntax of the book. At first, I was annoyed about choppy the sentences were, how the flow was constantly interrupted both in content as well as in syntax, and the overabundance of seemingly gratuitous visual imagery. However, at some point in the reading, I remembered what I had read in the introduction about how this novel was Kawabata's attempt to take the poetic form of the haiku and fuse it with the novel. Once I realized this, it explained each of the problems I had with the style of the work. I was able to move on from being annoyed by the intense amounts of nature imagery, and instead see it as a work of genius. Furthermore, the lack of smooth continuity, the short sentence syntax, and the boldness of the writing all was explained, and became an asset rather than an impediment for my ability to enjoy the work.

As I stated from the beginning, there were several plot developments and pieces of character interaction that left me confused. For example, on page 118, as well as many other places, Komako says to Shimamura "You're a simple, honest person at heart, aren't you?" The reason this was so confusing to me was because there seemed to be no reason for Komako to believe that Shimamura was simple and honest. Most of what he did was, as I elaborated on before, cold and unemotional. Furthermore, simply by being with Komako, he was cheating on his wife. As a result, I cannot understand how Komako could react to the conclusion that Shimamura was a simple and honest person. I can only wonder if this is simply Komako's attempt to make him out to be a moral and respectable man in her own mind. Another part that thoroughly confused me was when we read "At seven and again at three in the morning - twice in one short day she had chosen unconventional hours to come calling. There was something far from ordinary in all this" (126). It may seem obvious that this was an unusual way of behaving for Komako, but was there a deeper meaning to it that I missed? Am I simply to interpret it as an unusual turn of events? This seems unlikely, considering this quote is followed immediately by a section break. I can only imagine that the break was put in there purposefully to draw attention to this last sentence. The final, and possibly most confusing aspect, was when Shimamura says to Komako that she is a "good girl" and then a "good woman" and for some reason this severely angers her. "I hated it....You said I was a good woman, didn't you? You're going away. Why did you have to say that to me?" Not only was I confused by how angry she got, but also by how this let her to the conclusion that Shimamura would be leaving.

Though at times confusing and frustrating, Snow Country was an engaging and worthwhile piece of literature to read. From the extremely creative concept of fusing the novel and the haiku to the wonderful character development, this novel was entertaining and informative. I will enjoy delving deeper into this work in order to better understand exactly what all Kawabata was attempting to accomplish with it.

First Line

"The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country."

Yasunari Kawabata the First Line of Snow Country

Last Line

"As he caught his footing, his head fell back, and the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar."

Yasunari Kawabata the Last Line of in Snow Country

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1948

Paperback edition:

175 pages - Feb. 1, 1996

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