Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Snow Country

by Yasunari Kawabata

To quote Wikipedia, this novel “established Kawabata as one of Japan’s foremost authors and became an instant classic”. I am sure it did; yet I failed to enjoy the book, thanks to clumsy translation by Edward Seidensticker. This is positively the worst English translation of a Japanese book I ever read.

“It was such a beautiful voice that it struck one as sad”
“The high, thin nose was a little lonely, a little sad <...> There was nothing remarkable about the outlines of her round, slightly aquiline face”
“A powerful black dog stood on the stones by the doorway lapping at the water”
“Her laugh, like her voice, was so high and clear that it was almost lonely”
“The shape of her slightly aquiline nose was not clear”
— you get the picture. Or maybe not. The plot, if there is one, is not particularly engaging: a wealthy playboy spends some time away from his family at the hot springs in company of a young geisha. So what? At the time, there was nothing shocking or even remarkable about this. According to Seidensticker himself,
In Snow Country Kawabata has chosen a theme that makes a meeting between haiku and the novel possible.
Well, “possible” is not enough to make a good reading. The poetry is lost, the conversations are utterly meaningless, I couldn’t care less about the characters — what a waste of time.

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