Three stars, read in January 2018.
Widely considered to be his masterpiece, the Goodreads description says, but . . . Hmm. I was decidedly underwhelmed by this book.
There is absolutely beautiful imagery in his descriptions of snow country (I gave it an extra star for that reason).
It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void. As the stars came nearer, the sky retreated deeper and deeper into the night color . . .
Half the village was hidden behind the cedars of the shrine grove. The light in the railway station, not ten minutes away by taxi, flickered on and off as if crackling in the cold. The woman’s hair, the glass of the window, the sleeve of his kimono—everything he touched was cold in a way Shimamura had never known before.
But the relationship between the human characters seems completely empty to me. They speak to each other but never actually communicate, and I have no idea what either of them feels for the other or why; she is drunk nearly every time they talk, and half their dialogue is her saying something and him replying with something unrelated.
I think we’re supposed to find it all romantic because of the tragedy of teenage girls chained to “wasted lives”—the young mountain geisha pointlessly learning dozens of skills, doomed from the beginning by a society that, like most societies, dooms young girls from the beginning just because it decided to. But that doesn’t really play with me as romance.
Combined with Kawabata’s “haiku style” of implication rather than saying things explicitly, this makes Komako, Shimamura, and especially Yoko seem entirely incidental to the book rather than the focus—as if their story is merely a framework on which to hang the beauty of the landscape.