Book Review | Snow Country: A Novel Which Brings You to Minamiuonuma in Classic Era

Title: Snow Country (Yukiguni)
ISBN: 978-4-8053-0635-2
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
Translator: Edward G. Seidensticker
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing, Singapore
Pages: x + 175

Mayumi-san, a Japanese friend of mine, pretty knows and memorizes so well every single word at the very first paragraph of Snow Country. “I red it long time ago and still remember,” she told me. My other pal, Brad, also enthusiastically said that the novel is one of classic masterpiece of readings.

Having heard such comments, it is clear enough for me that the novel is celebrated well in Japan –and even in other countries. Even though it was initially published several decades ago, it is still well-preserved on people’s mind.

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Kawabata (1899-1972) started authoring Snow Country (Yukiguni in Nihongo) in 1934. It was published in serial from 1935 to 1937. He appended the final sequel in 1947, and the novel completed as it can be enjoyed today. Snow Country, perhaps, is Kawabata’s magnum opus. Because of the novel, and his two other strong narrative works, he was awarded Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968. Kawabata was the first Japanese Nobel Prize laureate. Edward G. Seidensticker (1921-2007), noted scholar of Japanese literature, translated Yukiguni into English. Yukiguni’s English version was published in 1957. Using quite sophisticated vocabulary, Seidensticker entertained readers.

Through this novel, Kawabata brings you to the snowiest region. “From December to April or May only the railroads are open, and the snow in the mountains is somtimes as much as fifteen feet deep,” Seidensticker wrote (page v). Although Kawabata did not explicitly mention the name of town in this novel, it is widely believed that the setting of Snow Country was Yuzawa, a town in Minamiuonuma city. Kawabata guides you from one place to other locations: train station, inn, hot spring (onsen), mountain, ski resort, shrine, and other spots. Reading this book, I was dragged into classic 1930s period.

Snow Country depicts unrealistic love relationship between an onsen geisha, Komako, and a wealthy dilettante, Shimamura. The two main characters, as well as Yoko –beautiful maid who comes between them– are pursuing for love. However, their situation and unreachable dreams assure they cannot attain it and that only tragedy for all three of them as a result.

Yes it is. Love is often like snow: beautiful and indulgent but at once pale and bitter.[]

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