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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Snow Country

Kawabata Yasunari

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To purchase Snow Country

Title: Snow Country
Author: Kawabata Yasunari
Genre: Novel
Written: 1937, rev. 1948 (Eng. 1956)
Length: 142 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Snow Country - US
Snow Country - UK
Snow Country - Canada
Snow Country - India
Pays de neige - France
Schneeland - Deutschland
Il paese delle nevi - Italia
País de nieve - España
  • Japanese title: 雪国
  • Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

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Our Assessment:

A- : artful relationship- and character-study

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 18/10/2004 I. Hijiya-Kirschnereit
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/1/1957 Donald Barr
Sunday Times . 30/6/1957 Maurice Cranston
The Times . 4/7/1957 .
TLS . 5/7/1957 Eileen Fraser

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Ereignisse als solche sind allerdings so unscheinbar und nebensächlich, daß sich der Autor selbst in seinem Erzählgespinst verhedderte. Was zählt, sind vielschichtig verknüpfte sinnliche Eindrücke, die sich netzartig über verschiedene Zeitebenen verzweigen. (...) Will man diesen durch und durch ästhetisierten Text, der die Möglichkeiten des Japanischen, Aussagen gewissermaßen in der Schwebe zu halten, bis an die Grenzen der Verständlichkeit treibt, ins Deutsche bringen, so gilt es, einen passenden Ton dafür zu finden. Keine einfache Aufgabe, gewiß." - Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(T)he processes by which the love affair develops are so extremely Oriental and inscrutable that one misses the satisfaction of following the details of a drama of which the general outline is familiar. The greatest merit of this book is the descriptive power with which the author evokes the Japanese alpine scene." - Maurice Cranston, Sunday Times

  • "He has fashioned an idyll out of unpromising material. (...) Mr. Kawabata's mountain village in all the beauty of the changing seasons is a poet's vision of the loveliness in life; the translator, Mr. Seidenstricker, has done his work well." - The Times

  • "Mr. Kawabata's beautifully economical novel. (...) This is a finely written book, excellently translated." - Eileen Fraser, Times Literary Supplement


Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Snow Country explores the relationship, over the course of several years, between Shimamura, a well-heeled married man with children who is able to live: "a life of idleness", and the devoted Komako, who works as a geisha in a resort town in the Japanese Alps. Essentially all the action is in this hot-spring town, focused on Shimamura's repeated visits, usually deep in the winter season when it is very cold and there is a great deal of snow: this is, very much, 'snow country'. We see, and hear, almost nothing about Shimamura's 'real', domestic life back in Tokyo; a twinge of guilt that he's not with the wife and kids is about the extent of it.
       Komaku is deeply in love with Shimamura, yet their relationship remains a somewhat strained one. Despite her strong feeling, Komaku also notes, for example:

You have plenty of money, and you're not much of a person.
       Shimamura has the freedom to indulge himself, yet remains incapable of real connection. Typically, he is fascinated by and writes about ballet -- without ever having seen an actual performance:
Nothing could be more comfortable than writing about ballet from books. A ballet he had never seen was an art in another world. It was an unrivaled armchair reverie, a lyric from some paradise. He called his work research, but it was actually free, uncontrolled fantasy. He preferred not to savor the ballet in the flesh; rather he savored the phantasms of his own dancing imagination, called up by Western books and pictures. It was like being in love with someone he had never met.
       Typically, too, he is unable to write anything himself -- in contrast to diary-keeping Komaku, who records every detail -- and instead manages only to translate others' words:
     Shimamura was translating Valéry and Alain, and French treatises on the dance from the golden age of Russian ballet. He meant to bring them out in a small luxury edition at his own expense. The book would in all likelihood contribute nothing to the Japanese dancing world.
       Shimamura finds pleasure in: "his sad little dream world". Komaku, with her feet much more on the ground, is drawn to him and finds in him (and alcohol) a form of escape -- except, of course, that he is not receptive enough to her needs and wishes; the escape remains always incomplete.
       In the novel's opening scene Shimamura is traveling to the resort, and there is a girl in the same railway carriage, Yoko, accompanying an ill man. Shimamura is uncertain of their relationship, and the girl lingers in his mind; as it turns out both Yoko and the man she was accompanying are also from Komaku's orbit; rumor has it that Komaku was engaged to the (as it turns out) dying man.
       Yoko -- a helper, rather than geisha -- repeatedly appears; Shimamura is clearly interested in her, but in part it is surely here very elusiveness that appeals to him. Komaku, meanwhile, goes out of her way to be part of his life -- but, as is also clear from how he readily ignores his actual family, Shimamura is a man who prefers "free, uncontrolled fantasy" to the tangible and real.
       Snow Country is almost all atmosphere over incident. Little happens -- until the end, which is then all the more devastating and effective, the full tragedy of these three characters and their relationships to each other emerging in an icy finale. But it's compelling all the way through, as Kawabata evokes atmosphere, and utilizes this snowy, cold, distant town and also the background characters very effectively.
       "What a strange person you are", Komako tells Shimamura. He is, and yet she is still drawn to him, hoping perhaps to somehow reach inside, beyond that hardened outer layer. But Snow Country is no romantic tale -- or, at best, a hopelessly romantic one, with an emphasis on the hopeless aspects.
       A strong, small work, brought to a devastating conclusion.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 March 2014

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Snow Country: Reviews: Kawabata Yasunari: Other books by Kawabata Yasunari under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kawabata Yasunari (川端 康成) (1899-1972) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968.

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