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This review is taken from PN Review 74, Volume 16 Number 6, July - August 1990.

JAPAN'S LAUREATE Kawabata Yasunari: The Lake, tr. by Reiko Tsukimura (Fontana) £2.99 pb.
Kawabata Yasunari: House of the Sleeping Beauties, tr. by Edward Seidensticker (Fontana) £2.99 pb.

It seems possible that those deciding on the Nobel Prize try to give each country a fair deal. Perhaps it was Japan's turn in 1968. Kawabata was awarded the prize in recognition of 'a uniquely Japanese achievement'. Certainly The Izu Dancer, written in 1927, in its subtle evocation of weather and landscape to comment on states of mind or emotion, is in the best oblique tradition of Japanese prose fiction. The narrator (it is one of Kawabata's few first-person narratives) is a student who attaches himself to some travelling dancers, having fallen for the sixteen-year-old girl member of the troupe. They cannot, socially, find a future and as a cold autumn wind blows he says goodbye and takes the boat back to Tokyo knowing he will never see her again. In 1935 Gosho made a beautiful film of it in which Tanaka Kinuyo gave a luminously memorable performance. It has been re-made since (badly) no less than four times, showing that an atmospheric treatment of doomed adolescent love is a sure-fire winner.

Although owing much to his study of French literature (references to Valéry and Radiguet for instance are to be found in his novels) Kawabata does write about the land and people of Japan, sometimes even choosing concepts unique to that country - the tea ceremony in Thousand Cranes or Japanese chess in The Master of Go.

Kawabata's best known work is probably Snow Country. Seidensticker claims it to be his masterpiece. He wrote ...


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