Book Review: Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (1935)

Snow CountrySnow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am white, mostly. And cold. And occasionally, weeping. But you don’t see my tears, for they run down the stream and lose their essence at the prolonged kiss of the first sun. But I do not mind. I come alive to die; I bulk up to surrender; I appear to vanish. But I, too, have admirers. Admirers, who eye ephemeral beauty with a stinging lacquer of depleting life, colluding their vision with a bagful of clouded vignettes stroking the air that arises after all is consumed and lost.

Visiting Japan in 1935, I met Kawabata-san. He whispered in my drifter ears that he wished to nestle a story under my frosty silhouette. I cast a doubtful glance at him and asked: ‘Are you sure? I am no spring and I am no sun. In my lap, tears appear more tenacious than smiles. And in my heart, I imprison love stories that untangle into laborious passion, reverberating in their incomplete destinies of intertwined desires but scattered existences. Your decision to drop your child in my tutelage may mar its chances of gaining an empathetic visitor.’ But he ran his hand on my granular head and said: ‘Be assured; wasted love is still love, after all.’ I eventually agreed to take his characters in my country.

So came, Shimamura and Komako, Yoko and Yukio. You don’t need to know who they are since all lovers in my country appear the same. And this Japan was still under the wreck of unequal rights of labour and dignity. But if you insist, I will oblige. Shimamura was groping for new vistas after a regular life had clutched him tight and Komako was a young geisha who equated new horizons to the skyline that inebriated my edges. When I saw them the first time, they were well-equipped to escape my mirthful sorrow. Shimamura was indulgent without emotion and Komako was wishful without goals. But alas! I am such a wretched stage; people step on me and forget the rest. I kept telling them I am the soft soil that sinks with repeated stamping but the duo, perplexed under the hypnotic rhythm of my robust sheets, dripping body and glistening air paid no heed to my cries. Intoxicated, they spent nights under my shadows and burnt lamps to spring reflections in my eyes; they held their rage and admiration under the chilling blanket I sent their way; they fought their jealousies when I subdued to let the sun cast a scarlet veil on Yoko, the lovely girl who never got bewitched under my spell and they darted viscous glances through my flakes at each pondering pause, rippled from Yukio’s disintegration. Both returned at my every appearance like faithful regulars but the unfulfilling rooms of their lives refused to open to a common hall. Whether other people tricked them into acts they did not intend to commit? I am afraid not. I suspect when I melt, I steal a part of those who hold me in their eyes; and at each return, I bind the stolen things in threads of melancholy despite my intention to dye them in colors of happiness. I can’t help it; my whiteness, under nature’s exponents of aggravation, assimilates all spunk and disperses a reeling blankness unmatched by any buoyant avalanche.

But Kawabata-san was a mature man; for when he placed his characters in my world, he also slipped many lyrical skates bearing the mark of mono no aware, handing a robust sailing to his creations and effectively annulling the threats posed by the steep boulders of unrequited love, unfathomable concern, unstoppable heartbeats and unmanageable bonds, compounded further under the burden of my heavy, stoic breathing. He won my heart by comprehending the little corners of my country with a sagacity comparable to someone born in my womb and chiseled them gently to accentuate their hidden beauties. So, the next time someone alights from a rickety train on a faint evening into a land bearing my stamp for as far as the eyes go, he will extend his arms in anticipation of an embrace that will not congeal his thoughts but would set them in riveting motion, softly swaying them in the gust of impermanent realities and navigating them into the
warm kotatsu 
of permanent memoirs.

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