Tuesday 18 February 2014

The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata

Yasunari Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 "for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind"

He was born in 1899 in Osaka, Japan and died April 1972.

His work has been described as "lyrical, subtly-shaded prose" by Wikipedia.

"The novel may be interpreted as a meditation upon aging and its attendant decline, and the coming to terms with one's mortality that is its hallmark."

Literature in Translation says:  

Perhaps the Kawabata novel that demystifies Japanese culture the most is The Sound of the Mountain (1954)—which has occasionally been singled out as Kawabata’s masterpiece. 
Although The Sound of the Mountain features powerful flights of description, it also abounds in prosaic details. The main character is an elderly businessman who has become emotionally distant from his family, and this novel can be read as a commentary on the passing of an older Japanese generation. You can also check out the rave reviews for The Sound of the Mountain on Good Reads.
However, I cannot, in all faith offer up a rave review here.
Maybe I wasn't in the mood for a slow, gentle story about aging and family tensions?

Jean @Howling Frog was feeling underwhelmed last time we checked in too. 

Her comment resonated with me as I struggled to care about Shingo and his dysfunctional family. 

I normally like a good 
introspective book. And I love reading about dysfunctional families! I also believe I'm intelligent enough to appreciate and enjoy subtle & culturally sensitive, nuanced writing. 
In fact, it was the cultural references and descriptions of nature that I found the most touching and interesting.

Thanks to my Japanese studies at school I understood the complexities and rituals behind some of them, but quite a few slid by me as well. 

Only one compelled me to research it. 

On pg 67 we come across this evocative passage...

The puppy got up as if nothing had happened, and, after standing there blockishly for a second or two, walked off sniffing at the earth.

"What is it?" He felt that he was seeing the pose for the first time, and that he had seen exactly that pose before. he thought for a moment.

"That's it. The Sotatsu painting," he muttered. "Remarkable."

Shingo had glanced at Sotatsu's ink painting of a puppy, and had though it altogether stylized, like a toy; and now he was astonished to see it reproduced in life. The dignity and elegance of the black puppy was exactly like the Sotatsu.

I was taken with this vignette, having had such moments in my own life. 

This time around, though, it was my personal image that predominated. 
I was unfamiliar with this artist and this piece of work (Puppy and Grass). 
Imagine my delight, when I googled it and spotted the picture straight away as being the one that matched the picture in my mind!

This book counts towards my Around the World Challenge with Giraffe Days.

I read The Sound of the Mountain as part of the Classics Club Dare

Now that I have finished my dare book, I challenge my fellow Clubbers to read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.

This dare is purely selfish. I read and loved Crossing to Safety 18 months ago and have been wanting a good excuse to read another Stegner book. This is it!


  1. Yes, I had much the same reaction. I finished a few days ago but have yet to write the post. I will probably read Angle of Repose though; I hear it's really good. :)

  2. Anonymous22/2/14

    That's a lovely painting! And that's cool that it looked like how you imagined. Good to hear that you enjoyed Crossing to Safety - I think that book has been on my to-read list for ages.


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