(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Master of Go is a fictional rendering of an actual Go match that occurred in Japan in 1938 on which Yasunari Kawabata reported for the Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun. The details from the game are factual as are the interactions of the players. Kawabata, who himself referred to The Master of Go as a “chronicle novel,” has fictionalized the story only in his delineation of the protagonist and in his interpretive comments on the action. In this literary rendering, the Go match is a metaphoric battlefield, in which the warriors pit themselves against their own limits, illness, time, and death.

The narrative is in the first person, in the voice of the news reporter Uragami. The novel opens at the end of the story with an account of the death of the protagonist, Honnimbo Shsai, the master of Go, and a description of events surrounding the end of the master’s last match. The game is then reported chronologically, with occasional digressions, from the elaborate opening ceremonies to the game’s conclusion six months later. Events in the lives of the contestants, negotiations for alterations in the game’s schedule, commentary on the game, and key moves of the game (which lasts 237 moves) make up the materials of the story.

On June 26, 1938, at the Koyokan Restaurant in Tokyo, each player makes his first move amid the ceremonies that convey the importance of the game and the high respect that it receives. The next day, the players complete up to move 12, and the game moves to another location, at Hakone, where, in the following month and a half, the next eighty-eight moves take place. Shsai’s weak health deteriorates rapidly as his heart begins to fail him, and the game recesses for three months, to resume in...

(The entire section is 720 words.)