by Yasunari KawabataPublished 1948 175 pages
Kawabata’s Snow Country is, on the surface, a pretty simple story about the relationship between Shimamura, a wealthy man of leisure from Tokyo, and Komako, a geisha at a hot spring resort in the mountains (Yuzawa Onsen specifically). Shimamura visits Komako a few times over the course of several years; during each visit he finds Komako’s position slightly changed.
The tension of the story mainly arises out of Komako’s fervent grip on the world around her vs. Shimamura’s total detachment from reality. Komako works tirelessly to provide for sick loved ones and has kept a meticulous diary for years. She falls powerfully in love with Shimamura and risks the scorn of the community to be with him. Shimamura, in contrast, loses himself frequently in the beauty of things—eyes reflected in glass, a sunset, the Milky Way—often to his relationships’ detriment. He’s almost never totally present.
In fact, I think a less generous reader might see him as self-absorbed and maybe even deluded. He’s a self-proclaimed expert on ballet, though he’s never seen a performance in real life. His fortune is inherited—so it’s not as though he’s earned his position. Komako puts it tersely: “You have plenty of money, and you’re not much of a person.”
None of this detracts from the story, less about things happening so much as circumstances changing. It’s a lovely little character study and a moving portrait of life in the mountains, and it makes me want to go back to Hokkaido for skiing and hot springs.