The Master of Go
by Yasunari Kawabata

A Review by Scott finished Feb. 12, 2009

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

Through the first fourth of The Master of Go, I did not think I would enjoy it. It felt, not surprising considering Kawabata was originally the reporter for the match, very clinical, as though I was reading it in a newspaper. Though this is, in and of itself, not a bad thing, compared to the other book I have read by Kawabata (Snow Country) I was disappointed. The tone and style of Snow Country felt so much more sophisticated than the Master of Go. However, as the story progressed, my opinion of the book changed. Kawabata, with great subtlety and skill, began to develop the character of the Master into something great and noble. I empathized with this man who, from the beginning, I knew would lose his final match of Go and die not long after. Though I knew nothing of the Master before reading the book, Kawabata was able to create a picture of him for me that I could not help but respect. As the translator mentioned in the introduction, this truly is an elegy for the Master. And, given my lack of knowledge of him but my reaction upon reading the book, there can be no doubt that Kawabata succeeded in honoring the Master"s life.

In addition to Kawabata"s ability to build up the Master (as well as Otake in a different, albeit interesting, way) I was also impressed with how he presented the game of Go itself. I know next to nothing of Go, and yet through Kawabata"s description I felt as though I understood the gravity of each move. Even more impressive was the fact that I cared to read what the next move would be, and to hear the commentary about what it meant for the match as a whole. It really was as though I were reading about a great battle that was taking place, rather than a description of a board game.

As a result of Kawabata"s masterful description and development of the characters in the book, and his ability to weave it a compelling description of the match they were engaged in, I have to recommend this book. Initially, I did not know if I would end up recommending it, especially considering how much I enjoyed Snow Country. However, in many ways The Master of Go is more accessible than Snow Country. While Snow Country has many wonderful poetic qualities, rich images, and subtle, yet evocative, uses of tone, The Master of Go tells a clearer, simpler story. Here we have an old, sick man who is faced with a young, brash challenger in an epic battle of wits. Regardless of your knowledge of game, or the match that actually took place, everyone can relate to the themes Kawabata presents here. Ultimately, it is the differences between The Master of Go and Snow Country that make it such a compelling and enjoyable book to read.

Favorite Quote

"There was no end to his patience and endurance. He played day and night, his obsession somewhat disquieting. It was less as if he were playing to dispel gloom or beguile tedium than as if he were giving himself up to the fangs of gaming devils."

Yasunari Kawabata in The Master of Go

Favorite Quote

"I was not so much observing the play as observing the players. They were the monarchs, and the managers and reporters were their subjects. To report on Go as if it were a pursuit of supreme dignity and importance - and I could not pretend to understand it perfectly - I had to respect and admire the players. I was presently able to feel not only interest in the match but a sense of Go as an art, and that was because I reduced myself to nothing as I gazed at the Master."

Yasunari Kawabata in The Master of Go

Favorite Quote

"Such is the way of the fates with human endowments, in the individual and in the race. Examples must be legion of wisdom and knowledge that shone forth in the past and faded toward the present, that have been obscured through all the ages and into the present but will shine forth in the future."

Yasunari Kawabata in The Master of Go

First Line

"Shusai, Master of Go, twenty-first in the Honnimbo succession, died in Atami, at the Urokoya Inn, on the morning of January 18, 1940."

Yasunari Kawabata the First Line of The Master of Go

Last Line

"My wife ran off for flowers, and I gave them to the Master's wife, who was in the hearse with the Master."

Yasunari Kawabata the Last Line of in The Master of Go

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1954

Paperback edition:

182 pages - May 28, 1996

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