Yasunari Kawabata

THE LAUREATE: Yasunari Kawabata was born in Osaka, Japan in 1899, studied English in the imperial university in Tokyo and worked as a reporter. He was one of a group of writers who modernized Japanese fiction (this appears to be a trend, doesn’t it?). He did a lot of experimental writing in addition to reporting for a newspaper. Kawabata (almost certainly) committed suicide in 1972.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HIM: I stumbled across a copy of Snow Country in the library’s free book bin, and then bought a Kindle edition of The Old Capital, which I’ve been reading off and on. The Old Capital is at pains to show how the old ways of Japan are slowly fading in Kyoto: the main character is the daughter of an old-style wholesaler whose business is slowly failing, he paints designs for kimonos that are too old-fashioned, the traditional festivals have been moved to a wider street where more tourists can watch them, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam. Don’t get me wrong, I seriously dig what I’ve read so far.

WHAT ARE YOU READING: The Master of Go, since Kawabata thought it was his greatest work. Later on, I will probably read Snow Country and The Sound of the Mountain, but not for this project.

REVIEW: The Master of  Go was surprisingly exciting for a book about a game I don’t understand. Apparently, it is a slightly fictionalized version of several of Kawabata’s actual serialized reports about an actual game that took place in 1935. The Master, who is almost always mentioned as such, is the last in a line of Go masters stretching back into the 18th century. His opponent, Otake, is the best of the new breed of players who play to win without necessarily playing to create a work of art. The theme, as in The Old Capital, is the collapse of old forms in the modern world (Arguably, Tolkien writes with the same outlook, but he has dragons in his books and thus was not worthy of the Nobel). Some people have taken The Master of Go as an allegory of World War 2, but that makes the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings into a dick move in a board game, and I’d like to think Kawabata was more sensitive than that.

DO YOU RECOMMEND IT? Absolutely.

WHAT’S NEXT? Albert Camus, and the official start of Existentialist Week here at All the Nobels! Hooray! Feel free to make your own drinking games, or just drink to make the ennui go away and finally feel something again! You know, like Shark Week, but with more despair!

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