“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky. The train pulled up at a signal stop.”
— Opening Paragraph
In Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata we are presented with the story of Shimamura’s escape from Tokyo and his family. He escapes his responsibilities by travelling to a snow covered spa town in the mountains of western Japan. Over the duration of Shimamura’s first visit to the town he has an affair with a local geisha, Komako, who is looking for love and another life. However, Shimamura is also attracted to Yoko, the maid he first saw on the train as he arrived at the town. Shimamura and Komako’s lives and desires are incompatible, and their relationship is destined to fail. From the time that Shimamura returns to the town for a second visit in the autumn they both know this. They still fight it.
The language that Kawabata uses has often been described as haiku like in form. This is an accurate description. What we read here is a series of brief scenes presented in slight but carefully composed images. A style of storytelling which leaves the meaning in the crisp shadows cast by the words given.
Overall this short novel is a fine example of the virtues of brevity. It left me with a feeling the edges of mono no aware. Snow Country is not a book for a reader seeking a neat escape. As the novel closes, Shimamura, Komako and Yoko have been irreversibly changed. How have they changed? We don’t know every detail. We are left only with an ambiguous and open ending. The only knowledge we have is that we have reached the end of the novel’s 121 pages and that we have to close the book even the story is unresolved and closure hasn’t been achieved.
Note: I have employed Western name ordering in this review. The correct order for Yasunari Kawabata’s name is Kawabata Yasunari. Kawabata is the family name.