by Yasunari Kawabata
Now, even more than the evening before, he could think of no one with whom to compare her. She had become absolute, beyond comparison. She had become decision and fate.
- Kawabata, Thousand Cranes, p 145
Yasunari Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 in part for his novel Thousand Cranes. This novel is set in post World War II Japan where the protagonist, Kikuji, has been orphaned by the death of his mother and father. He becomes involved with one of the former mistresses of his father, Mrs. Ota, who commits suicide seemingly for the shame she associates with the affair. After Mrs. Ota's death, Kikuji then transfers much of his love and grief over Mrs. Ota's death to her daughter. What made this novel notable for me was the way that the author demonstrated the themes of grace and precision through his beautiful and disciplined prose style. This comes across even in translation and combined with the beauty of the 'tea ceremony' makes this a short elegant novel. The subtle psychology of the relationships of Kikuji add to the power and beauty of the book. His attempts to overcome his loneliness and deal with death are particularly moving. While the novel resonates with the feelings, images and icons of a very different foreign culture it can be appreciated for its spare but not uncomplicated telling of meaningful events in the life of very human individuals. This is a great short read that may expand your experience or at least give you a taste of a different world.
Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata. Vintage Books, New York. 1996 (1959)