Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968 for the significance of his novels Yukiguni (1935-1937, serial; 1947, book; Snow Country, 1956), Thousand Cranes, and Kyoto (1962; The Old Capital, 1987), Yasunari Kawabata is generally considered one of the greatest Japanese novelists of the twentieth century. Kawabata was the first modern Japanese writer to be extensively translated into English. Born in Osaka, Japan, in 1899, he was educated at Tokyo Imperial University; he committed suicide in 1972.
Kawabata began to write professionally in the mid-1920’s and was a member of the lyrical New Sensationalist school, which revolted against the realism of the naturalist and proletarian schools of writing that were then popular in Japan. The New Sensationalists stressed the importance of purely artistic values and used mixed sensory impressions, striking images, and sudden transitions in their writings. They were influenced by both traditional Japanese haiku poetry and such varied European sources as Surrealism, Futurism, Dadaism, and expressionism. Kawabata went on to develop a style that was deeply rooted in traditional Japanese literature but that also contained non-Japanese elements.
Thousand Cranes was initially serialized in a magazine from 1949 to 1951; it was published in book form in 1952. The short work consists of five chapters and is 147 pages long. Kawabata’s writing style in this novel is classical Japanese in temperament: It is loosely structured, sparse, frequently episodic, and impressionistic, and it displays a delicacy of sentiment. Dialogues between characters are highly suggestive, and what is not said is often just as important as what is said; nuances are just as revealing as direct statements. Kawabata’s sentences are simple in vocabulary and syntax, have a haiku-like precision, and are often highly sensory. Consequently, his paragraphs are very short and succinct.
Kawabata also uses non-Japanese elements in his writing. He seems constantly to be looking for fresh, nontraditional impressions. The images and situations he constructs are at times surrealistic, and they create an odd, dream-like atmosphere. In addition, Kawabata randomly jumps from association to association in order to capture the quickly changing, immediate consciousness of his characters in a manner that is clearly influenced by the Western writing technique of stream of consciousness.
Thousand Cranes is a psychological exploration of feelings about death and the haunting ties that past events exert on the present. The dominating theme is retribution for sins committed in the past. Kikuji and Fumiko’s attempt to understand and overcome the guilt associated with his father’s...
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