Friday, September 30, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: September 2016

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Snow Country
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
via Amazon
Kawabata's Snow Country is considered a classic of modern Japanese literature.   First serialized between 1935 and 1937, the novel tells the tale of Shimamura a Tokyo aristocrat who takes his holidays in the mountains in order to be with his favorite geisha, Komako.  While the story is told from his perspective, the focus is on her and the gradual downward spiral of her life.  There isn't much in the way of action, just brief snippets of Komako visiting Shimamura, often staggering in drunk from an evening's excesses. 

I am finding with literature on both ends of the Asian continent, imagery takes precedent over plot and character.  Kawabata's (translated) language is frequently stunning, brimming with perfect sentences like "The river seemed to flow from the tips of the cedar branches."  I suppose it's not surprising in cultures where poetry is the dominant literary medium but I need something more to be carried away by a story.

The book did make me curious about Japan's western regions, an area I never visited in my time there.  Japan's an extraordinary country in terms of climate.  On the eastern, Pacific side, where the vast majority of the population lives, the weather is much like the American southeast: warm, humid summers and mild winters.  But on the western side of the Japanese Alps, you're essentially in Siberia.  The town of the story - never named but it's based on the hot spring town of Yuzawa - really isn't so far from Tokyo in terms of miles but as it's on the western side of the mountains, it's another world in winter.  5-10 feet of snow on the ground is perfectly normal.  Avalanches are a genuine hazard.  Rough living, to be sure, but I'd still love to see it sometime.  Plus, I love a hot bath!

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post October's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is October 28th.


15 comments:

  1. This sounds like a beautiful read - literally. But as you say, plot is pretty important too! Have you read Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino? I don't know why I was so taken with it (where others seem to not like it as much), but I thought it was both gripping in terms of story (a horrible story for the most part), and beautiful.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25366.Grotesque

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    1. I don't know Grotesque. I'll keep an eye out for it.

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  2. Interesting, but I'm a story gal and need more than pictures to make a read intense. Much to my graphic novel-loving sons' great regret...

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    1. There are graphic novels, including Japanese ones, that carry narrative brilliantly.

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  3. To go not far off topic, I'm considering The Dream of the Red Chamber, right now. I'm balking a bit because of the length.

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    1. I haven't delved much into Chinese literature. Japan has had a far more profound impact on my life so my interests generally tend that way instead. That said, I am certainly intrigued by China.

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  4. I read this twice in college. One of my favorite books, easily.

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    1. By the way, if you want good visceral Asian literature, you should maybe check out Mo Yan's Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, which recounts life under China's Cultural Revolution.

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    2. I don't know that one but I did read Wild Swans - quite sobering. The Good Women of China is waiting for me on the TBR shelf now.

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  5. Well the cover is certainly beautiful :)
    As I have taken a stab or two at novel writing, I am sometimes disheartened at how modern writing is so plot-driven. It seems like everything needs to move the story forward or be omitted. Sometimes you just need to get carried away in the beauty of language for the sake of beauty....Or not :) Thanks for the review.

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    1. Well, okay. I would never say that one should abandon language for its own aesthetic enjoyment in favor of plot. I'm happy to lose myself in Shakespeare anytime, for instance. And there's no denying that even in translation, Snow Country is beautiful. That said, the ideal read for me is one in which I forget I'm reading at all. That didn't happen here.

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  6. I need both plot and character (but mostly character) to keep me interested. Sadly, I haven't read much Asian literature at all.

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    1. I'm trying to read more. Japanese comic books are still my favorite so far.

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  7. Sounds interesting, but probably too deep for me. Still, I bet it is beautiful.

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    1. It certainly interested me in visiting Yuzawa.

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