What an intriguing read! I read this for the GoodReads <i>International Reads</i> book club I am a part of and I am quite glad this was the book that was chosen for the month of December (yeah, I know I am late with this review shhhhhh!). I found this book to be very thought-provoking and beautifully written. The themes are not one a person may be able to grab at first glance. That's why, before reading this book, I recommend you put in some time into researching this book and then coming back to <i>Snow Country</i>. An article I highly recommend reading is from <a href="http://japaneseliterature.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/snow-country/">Contemporary Japanese Literature</a>, a site that takes various Japanese works and analyzes them/reviews them. They did a wonderful job in explaining a lot of the meaning and hidden messages that were throughout the book in great detail. It definitely helps the reader to better understand what Kawabata was trying to convey in his work.
Yasunari Kawabata has a very interesting style when it comes to story-telling. I will not mention his actual "writing style" as this is a translated work and, therefore, will not be fair of me to rate. However, his manner of telling a story is beautiful in its own right. He incorporated beautiful imagery and astounding descriptions of Japan's scenery that take your breath away. Literally. The amount of depth he goes into in his own analysis of human behavior is a curious and interesting view. He goes on to question what it means to waste one's own life for something that isn't necessarily important to one person but can mean the world to another. I really did find myself questioning the same things as I read the book. The one thing I could not truly appreciate about Kawabata's story was how he jumped around from one scene to the other with little warning. I understand that is his way of writing something and that it is very common in a book that is, basically, haiku-esque. However, I felt it to be a bit jarring and it took me out of the reading experience multiple times because I had to backtrack and figure out that we were in an entirely different area than we were previously. It's not a huge problem but it did appear often enough to distract from the main plot.
Kawabata's characters were one of the most interesting aspects of the book. None of them are likable except for maybe... one. But that's the point! You are not meant to like them! They are flawed. They are broken. They will be their own demise! All that coincides with the theme of the book. Humans are flawed. We go after things we cannot have and ultimately make ourselves miserable. Shimamura, main character, is always bored with his life no matter how good he has it. He has all this money and he knows not how to make himself happy because he detaches himself from reality. He conjures up these fantasies about his life and the people around him that when he finally gets to have that one person, he sees that they are not what he imagines. They, too, are flawed. This is why he and Komako's relationship is doomed from the start! He sees her one way and she is not like that. The same thing could be said about Komako. She wants to change him. She wants him to care more. To be more like how she wants him to be. And he can't. He is a detestable man with selfish needs and an uncaring heart. He is unable to fully commit himself to just one person because that is not who he is. Komako is no better. She lowers herself to him, drinks herself to sleep on most nights, and doesn't know when to let go of something that is not good for her. She is the perfect example of someone who puts up with abuse because she believes she doesn't deserve any better. And perhaps she doesn't... that is for the reader to decide.
One character that might be "likable" is Yoko. She is another girl that Shimamura is pining after. She might seem "likable" because of how little we know about her. She, throughout the most part, shows how polite and humble she is. But that's usually portrayed as a front. The way that Shimamura, in his mind, conjured her to be. However, there's a part in the book where he has a conversation with her and she says a few things that someone who is "pure" and "innocent" should not say. Like running away with a man who is married, has kids, and a mistress on top of that (I told you Shimamura is a very detestable man... the pig). What is Kawabata trying to say here? That nothing and no one is truly perfect. The ending perfectly reiterates that and drives it home to the reader that the relationships between these two characters (Shimamura and Komako) will never work out, their separation inevitable.
This truly was a very beautiful book filled with imagery and poetry, making this a read for many to enjoy. I recommend you to read this book at least once in your life. It has complex human emotions, beautifully written imagery, and thought-provoking scenarios. There are times when it feels like the transitions from one scene to the next are too abrupt but it's just a minor drawback. Read it for the simplistic beauty that is human relationships. Not for the characters or their selfishness, but for the study of their interactions. I think it should be quite the experience.