First Snow on Fuji by Yasunari Kawabata and One Down, Another Started

My first thought after finishing First Snow on Fuji is that I think I’d like to try one of Yasunari Kawabata’s novels. Like the other two books that I’ve read for the Japanese Reading Challenge, the language in this book was beautiful. Kawabata had a gift for capturing the fragility of human relationships and explores that in this collection of short stories. I thought that all of the stories were very well written, some I liked better than others, but I wanted more…as I so often do with short stories. Maybe I’m just not a short story guy, or maybe I’m reading the wrong authors. There are some authors that can deliver a short story perfectly for me and in fact, there were a few in this collection that worked perfectly for me. But the more I dive into short stories, the more I find that it’s a true art form, to write a satisfying tale, a moral tale, a voyage, whatever the author sets to do, in so few pages.

My favorite of the stories in this collection was the first, titled This Country, That Country. It’s the story of a young woman who reads a column in a local paper that talks about extravagant goings on in other countries (mostly European countries) and she reads an article about spouse swapping. She tucks the paper away after deciding not to show the article to her husband, a man who she is comfortable with and has a good life with, but there’s no true passion. Her neighbors next door seem to have the perfect marriage and her neighbor’s husband seems to be the perfect man. Her thoughts wander to what life would be life in another situation.

Another great story in the collection was Nature, which begins “To begin by saying that I heard the life story of a traveling actor at a spa is rather an old-fashioned narrative technique, but then…perhaps the story itself is old-fashioned…” And it is. I loved this story. It’s the story of a man who has come to visit a spa where his deceased friend who was a writer used to stay. He finds there is an actor staying in the room where his friend used to always stay and goes to meet with him one night. They spend the night talking and the actor tells quite an interesting story of his past.

Silence was the last story that really stuck out to me. This was the story of an author who is now paralyzed, unable to write or speak. The narrator of the story goes to visit him, contemplating why he chooses not to use what little use he has left of his left hand. He could after all communicate, writing the Japanese characters of W for Water or T for Tea, but instead, he chooses to live out the rest of his days in silence. This was a beautifully contemplative piece and I really enjoyed it.

So as you can see, this one definitely had it’s high points, but some of the other stories just didn’t do it for me, or I just wanted a little more. But I’m glad I read this book. And with the end of this one, I’m done the Japanese Literature Challenge! My books read were:

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
First Snow on Fuji by Yasunari Kawabata

I’d like to also fit in Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask by the end of the month! Thanks again to Bellezza πŸ™‚ You rock!!!


So, I’ve finished one challenge, why not add another to the list! Becky’s hosting another great challenge. How she manages to participate in and host all these challenges is beyond me. This one is the Margaret A. Edwards Reading Challenge and the challenge is to read 3-5 books between February 1st and June 1st by winners of the Margaret A. Edwards award. The award is given each year to an author who makes a lasting contribution in the field of young adult literature and this year it was given to Orson Scott Card!!! Guess who one of my authors will be? πŸ˜‰ So here’s my list:

1. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (Deslily’s review here) I can see that smile Pat πŸ˜‰
2. Gifts by Ursula K. LeGuin
3. Something by Orson Scott Card


20 Responses

  1. You are indeed correct in that it is a true art form to create a powerful, engaging short story. While many authors can write good, even great short stories, even those aren’t always as amazing as those rare short stories that just blow you away. I can really enjoy good short stories for what they are and leave satisfied, but it doesn’t stop me from always being on the lookout for a short story that nails me to my seat like many of Gaiman’s do. They are out there, though, so I keep trying out various short story authors.

  2. I stumbled on your blog somewhere (can’t remember where exactly now) but I’ve been enjoying browsing.

    I joined the Margaret A. Edwards reading challenge too. One of my books is definitely going to be Orson Scott Card as well, I have been reading so many good reviews of his books. Ack I started with one reading challenge, they just seem to multiply.

  3. So glad you’re joining in Chris! I hoped you would.

    As far as short stories go, I’m hard to please. I want more, more, more. I think you might find the Foundation trilogy to your liking though. They started out as short stories (or perhaps novellas may be closer. But they were printed in magazines.) Yet despite their individual length, each one tends to have a little something special that just makes it work. And I’ve heard that Asimov’s short stories are better than his novels. And so far I agree. I’m reading the later Foundation novels written thirty years later and finding them lacking. (I think I’m digressing.)

    Long story short, it is harder to write short fiction–I think–than longer works. I think it’s hard to get all the characters developed–or some of the characters developed anyway–in such a short space. But there are a few geniuses out there that accomplish it more often than not.

  4. Carl, Gaiman’s exactly who comes to mind when I’m thinking of good short stories. I’ve definitely found a few other authors who I’ve enjoyed, but they’re usually hit or miss. Gaiman’s pretty consistent though. I think that man can write just about anything and it will be good. There were a few in the Wizards book that were really good too, but even those aren’t all that memorable to me now. Card has some excellent ones out there. And there are a few “literary folk” who have written some of my favorite short stories.

    Kim, Glad you found me πŸ™‚ Stay awhile! I’m so glad to hear you’re reading Orson Scott Card! He’s my favorite author, so anytime I hear that someone’s reading something by him, it puts a huge smile on my face πŸ™‚ Challenges can be ridiculously addicting and you can find yourself in way over your head, huh? But that’s half the fun of it! I have a whole blog dedicated to them now because I couldn’t keep track of them, lol…I think I’ve commited myself to something like 60 books already this year…we’ll see if that actually happens :p

    Becky, Couldn’t pass it up πŸ™‚ This challenge was very serendipitous. I had just bought Gifts and was wondering when I would fit it in, Deslily really wanted me to read the McCaffrey book, and I’m always up for more Card! As for the short stories, you’re exactly right. I think there are a few geniuses out there who have the equation exactly right. It really is a tough thing to balance and I think you really have to hit the nail right on the head to make it work. I’ll have to try Asimov again. I didn’t think I’d go back to him after I, Robot, but everyone’s praising Foundation, so I shall try it!

  5. Congrats on finishing the challenge, Chris. I’m debating reading more J-Lit (as you called it – which I love). I wouldn’t mind reading more Kawabata myself and I can certainly recommend Snow Country to you.

    I saw in your other post about Megan coming for the parades. I’ll wish you an excellent weekend now, while I’m thinking about it.


  6. CJ, Thanks for the good wishes on the weekend πŸ™‚ I’m sure it’ll be a fun one! I remember your review of Snow Country and it sounds like one that I’ll want to check out when I get back to Kawabata. I really do want to read a novel of his. Sounds like it could be one for me.

  7. hmmm, not sure how that will go reading the mccaffrey book when you won’t understand what’s going on in the “background” having not read the first trilogy first!

    The first trilogy isn’t considered YA because there is some “love scenes”..of course, they are done like the old black and white movies.. a few words like “intwining” and then left for your imagination..nothing real descriptive..

    I am trying to imagine reading Dragonsong before the other books.. kinda hard.. plus that is book 1 of the Harper Hall Trilogy.. it’s not really a stand alone book…

  8. Looks like a fun challenge! I wish I had participated in the Japanese one, but it started during my ‘no challenge’ period. Oh well-now I just have lots of excellent sounding Japanese books to read in the future! (I mooched The Sound of Waves last year based on your review…now it’s staring at me reproachfully)

  9. Nice! I’ve never read this guy before. It’s such a fun name to say. KAWABATA! I feel like a ninja turtle who got a little confused.

    I just started a sci-fi short story collection called Alien Sex. The first story was about a guy who tried to have sex with a monkey…. proof positive that the short story genre is indeed a difficult one.

  10. Wow…just mid-January and you’ve already got a challenge under your belt! Woohoo…that must feel good! And you picked the perfect way to celebrate…joining a new one! I signed up for this one, too. Was the perfect opportunity to finally stick Ender’s Game into the reading line-up!

  11. I loove short stories. If you can get a hold of Ursula K LeGuin’s short story, TEXTS, it’s one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.

    I often wonder how certain short stories translate into other cultures. I remember reading something about how different countries viewed Harry Potter and its world and setting. One place in the middle east connected Lord Voldemort to the Ayatollah for instance. Translation is so often about bringing the entire culture of a story across some regional divide into the consciousness of a totally different culture. I’ve read short stories which were considered masterpieces in their time or in their culture and which left me cold.

    And am sure vice versa happens. I remember reading something on why the French weren’t particularly thrilled with Hamlet and Shakespeare’s rambling style. (Maybe the French have changed by now, we hope.)

    Am not really sure of the present state of Japanese women and how Japanese men think of them. I saw a news program about a school for emotion being given by Japanese men’s club on how to show emotion to their wives. (Cause divorces are on the rise and many japanese women are divorcing their hubbies because the men are cold…which they never used to do.)

    There are of course those mythic stories that transcend cultures but I wonder what a Japanese reading partner can bring to an american reader. Something to make the reader say, “Ah gee! Is that what’s going on?” Might be old news to us…but to the japanese reader….newness and wild imagination indeed. -C

  12. Deslily, Doh! Let’s try that list again with Dragonflight as the first book! :p Thanks for catching that for me πŸ˜‰ The challenge doesn’t have to be young adult books, it just has to be an author who has written for young adults who has won the award. I’m so excited about this one!

    Eva, The Japanese Challenge was such a great challenge. One of my favorites so far. The Sound of Waves was a beautiful book and I think that it will definitely be one that you love πŸ™‚ Hope I’m not wrong there with a comment like that!

    Scott, Yeah, I thought his name was fun to say too :p Glad I’m not the only one who thinks that way, lol. Alien Sex, eh? The possibilities are endless! Why stop at a short story!

    Debi, I saw that you’re reading Ender’s Game for this one πŸ˜€ Made me very happy of course! To be fair, this challenge was only 3 books and it started November 30th, so it’s no big accomplishment :p But thanks for the congrats πŸ™‚ I know, I should learn to take a compliment, lol.

  13. Carole, I REALLY need to give LeGuin a second chance. And I am with Gifts real soon. I read The Lathe of Heaven awhile ago and just couldn’t do it. You know, as I read this book, I wondered what got lost in the translation as well. That could have been part of my problem as well. He’s obviously a wonderful writer, but some of the stories seemed just sort of flat for me. But then again, by nature, some Japanese literature is very calm and monotonistic. If the translation is off, it comes across as flat. These were also written in the 50’s and 60’s so they come from a time and culture that I’m not accustomed to as you mentioned. There are certainly a lot of factors that come into play on why they may have not have worked for me, but I’m definitely not giving up on short stories!!

  14. This book sounds beautiful. “Silence” in particular really appeals to me. I do wish I had joined the Japanese Literature challenge! It seems that Japanese Literature is full of pearls waiting to be discovered. Ah well, I will definitely still be reading all these wonderful sounding books some day.

  15. Nymeth, Silence was awesome and it seems to be his most acclaimed short story. It was a beautiful piece. Very poetic in a way and had a ghost story mixed in that I didn’t even mention! I definitely suggest that you check out some of these Japanese books. You’d really enjoy them, I know you would! Maybe Bellezza will host this again later in the year πŸ™‚

  16. Hey Chris.

    I read The Lathe of Heaven too. Tried to. I couldn’t make it through either. I kept saying, “maybe it was great in its time” and time moved on and it didn’t bring the novel along. Texts is a short short…in the Searoad collection. Texts and The ones who who walk away from Omelas are the only LeGuin stories I really love.

  17. I felt like I wanted a bit more too in some of his stories in the collection I read, The Dancing Girl of Izu. It seems like Kawabata must be hard to translate since he seems to be known for his poetic style. Overall though I’m really glad to have finally read him and look forward to trying more. Congrats on finishing the challenge!

  18. Tanabata, I’m glad to see you had the same thoughts I did. I really don’t think that it’s anything about Kawabata’s writing, I’m convinced it’s the translation….like you said, he’s known for being so poetic, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s quite difficult to translate. I’m going to try out Snow Country next I think. Hopefully his novels translate better!

  19. It’s funny… so many people think of short stories as easier than novels. But they just require a different kind of skill, not a different level of skill. You’re right; it really is an art form to fit a truly satisfying tale into that kind of space.

  20. […] interesting review of this collection can be found here. Part of the first short story This Country, That Country is available online for free via NY Times […]

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