Returning to Kyoto, where temple bells announce the New Year, a grave and penitent Oki is drawn to a haunting obsession from his past. Gently lyrical, yet fierce with the stark intensity of passion, Kawabata's last novel tells the story of the lasting consequences of a brief love affair.
©1975 Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
After listening to several of Haruki Murakami's books on Audible (Kafka on the Shore; Dance Dance Dance; What I Write About When I Write about Running), I wanted to try some other Japanese authors. Kawabata is a more "traditional" 20th century Japanese writer, but I knew very little about his work before listening to this book.
What a beautiful, well-crafted story! The main character, Oki, is a novelist in his 50s who, in the first chapters of the book, visits his former lover, Otoko, on a business trip to Kyoto. Oki memorialized their love affair in his book, A Girl of Sixteen, but Otoko is now 40 and is a successful painter. She lives with her protegee and lover, Keiko, a young, beguiling woman who manages to seduce both Otoko and his son in her quest to gain "revenge" for Oki's leaving Otoko 20 years previously. The tale, as anticipated, ends tragically, but from beginning to end the author writes marvelously about love, hate, desire, jealousy-- and Japan. It made me want to be in Kyoto, just to hear the descriptions of the temples and bells and sanctuaries of Kyoto. I could just imagine Otoko and Keiko tying their hand-painted kimonos with colorful "obi".
I am glad that Audible added this author to its selection. I would have given this book 5 stars if it weren't for the sometimes clumsy characterizations of the reader. The female voices sounded falsetto and exaggerated, while Oki's son's voice was unnaturally deep.
I'll get to Nishii later. As for Kawabata I will definitely try him again because the language and style used was extraordinarily beautiful and I really liked it.
While I do have a very dull theory of why it ended as it did (what did happen isn't explicitly said, but it's quite clear) I just hope there's a better and deeper explanation. So my stance on the ending is that I didn't get it, despite listening through the two last chapters twice.
I've listened to two Mishima books by Brian Nishii before (Temple of the Golden Pavillion and Sound of Waves) and was very impressed with his narration. For this book however I was a bit disappointed. It's still really good, but not nearly as good as his Mishima performances.
What I really like about him, and where I feel he failed a bit here, is that he usually pronounces Japanese names in a very non-garbled non-american accent but still without having it sound forced or interrupting the flow of the text. It still doesn't interrupt the text, but it is a bit less authentic in this one.
Oh, and his interpretation of the younger girl is really annoying. But you get used to it.
I don't think this is the appropriate venue for such confessions.
A lot of it is written from a female perspective by a very male writer. I like having books from a woman's point of view every now and then, but despite being from a female perspective it's very clearly written by a man. We're talking way over 50% of the book being from the women's perspective (there are two of them) with little trace of them having a life that's not circulating around Oki and his son.
Of course, the book is in part a product of it's time and all but this really got to me. It's my only complaint about the book, but it's a big one.
I wouldn't start with this late novel. Don't want to say too much about it, it has a fascinating mood of impending doom, nostalgia, frustration. I even got caught up in the plot/drama, but do not think it an entirely successful work, more of a fable than character study. I am devoted to this author and his tonality and especially when the characters work as realistic persons. Many pleasing things in the prose descriptions, the evocations of season, time of day, a floating world.
The novel has many layers for analytical understanding as it opens up different relations backed by emotion and lust, betrayal and trust. Besides triggerring thoughtful review of the characters, their motives of life and their deep lonliness, the novel has a beautiful narration which takes a reader along. What made me impressive is the excellent style of reading Brian Nishii has rendered.
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