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Kawabata, Yasunari 1899–1972

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Kawabata, a novelist, short story writer, and critic, was the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Numerous deaths in his family left Kawabata virtually alone at a young age and impressed upon him the loneliness and impermanence of life, a view often reflected in his work. He is important both for his own fiction and for his support of such younger Japanese writers as Yukio Mishima. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 5, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14; obituary, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)

Geoffrey Grigson

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It is a maximal artistry which strikes me first about Kawabata, even in translation. Artistry in fiction among other things means that a reader is never bored, also that he accepts, that he has to accept, the inevitability and instantaneous quality of the things described, the persons, the actions, the situations, being just so….

At once Kawabata establishes a situation. Sometimes in the very first sentence. Snow Country, an extraordinary study of love and sensuality which was the first of his books to be translated into English (some twelve years ago), began 'The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country', a first sentence which the reader of the whole novel is unlikely to forget. (p. 200)

The title story [of House of the Sleeping Beauties] begins with the same involving immediacy. A man in his late sixties has passed through the locked gate into the reception room of a peculiar house of assignation. The proprietress or rather manageress, who has a sharp knowledge of our secret life, provides old men with unattainable, though not untouchable, youth and beauty—or not to use such abstractions, they pay to pass the night, that and no more, with young girls drugged into unknowingness.

This is Kawabata's device—though 'device' suggests a trickiness or an apparent artifice very opposite to the reader's experience—for getting deep into the being of Eguchi. Old Eguchi finds himself drawn again and again to the house, as if in pursuit 'of a vanished happiness in being alive'. Each sleeping girl, by a feature, a movement, a tinge, a scent, revivifies moments, experiences, sensualities, secrecies in his past life. Perhaps, he thinks, the attraction of this house is 'the longing of the sad old men for the unfinished dream'; which is all we have in fact, the dream of what is never obtained, never obtainable.

Crudely or bluntly stated, the situation if not the theme of this House of the Sleeping Beauties sounds morbid or designing. In fact this is a story of subtle directness, of open secrecy, with no desire to catch readers by its peculiarity. It is dramatic, sad, and full of that poetic 'realness', which is so much more than 'being real'. Phrases, particular moments, particular touches, stick to the mind…. The touches—touches only, because Kawabata does not go on too long or say more than he needs to say—are like this opening to the last chapter: 'The new year came, the wild sea was of dead winter. On land there was little wind'; or like this upward glance: 'The dampness clouded the window, like a toad's belly stretched over it.'

As for morbidity—to a charge that he was morbid Kawabata could reply that he at times examines morbidity because it exists, as a condition of men. (pp. 201-02)

Geoffrey Grigson, "Stories by Kawabata" (1969), in his The Contrary View: Glimpses of Fudge and Gold (© Geoffrey Grigson 1974; reprinted by permission of Macmillan, London and Basing-stoke), Macmillan, 1974, pp. 200-03.

Yukio Mishima

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465

"House of the Sleeping Beauties" is most certainly an esoteric masterpiece. (p. 7)

[It] is...

(The entire section contains 6457 words.)

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Kawabata, Yasunari (Vol. 107)


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