Palm-of-the-Hand Stories Essay - Critical Essays

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories

It is impossible to generalize about the cornucopia of “palm-of-the-hand” stories by Yasunari Kawabata collected in this entrancing volume. Written over a period of fifty years, the seventy stories translated here represent about half of Kawabata’s output in this, his favorite prose form. Their titles give some indication of their enigmatic nature: “A Saw and Childbirth,” “The Incident of the Dead Face,” “The Silverberry Thief,” “The Sparrow’s Matchmaking,” “Morning Nails,” “Lavatory Buddhahood,” “The Younger Sister’s Clothes,” “A Pet Dog’s Safe Birthing.”

Kawabata, renowned in the West for his novels such as THOUSAND CRANES, is clearly a master as well of this much briefer form. In a page or two or three, he conveys worlds that are limpid, poignant, complete; people the reader cares about immediately; seasons whose crisp air or flowering trees are evoked in a few well-honed words as evocative as the spontaneous brush strokes of a Sumi painter.

Individually, each of these stories is a gem--dazzling like a diamond, bottomless like an opal, elusive like a star sapphire. None reveals itself all at once; some remain mysterious, while others expose myriad faces. Together, Kawabata’s palm-of-the-hand stories make up a richly varied jeweled net that it is a luxury to regard, and perhaps begin to unravel, at one’s leisure.