The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata (1962, 182 pages)
The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata (translated by J Martin Holman) is my the six Japanese novel for
The Japanese Literature Challenge III challenge. Yansunaru Kawabata was the first Japanese novelist to win the Nobel prize, winning in 1968. He is considered one of the main forces behind thel English Language Literary Establishments initial interest in the post WWII Japanese novel.
The story line is not complicated. A young woman of twenty, Chieko, was taken in while a foundling and raised by the owners of a small Kimono Factory in Kyoto. She latter discovers she has a twin sister still living and tries to find out about her real parents.
The Old Capital is about the pairing of opposites. Chieko's parents lives were destroyed by events beyond their control. Her adopted parents produce artifacts of another time, via artistic conventions set long ago. The conventions have become almost part of nature to her parents. There are numerous references to images of purity through out the work. When we look st the world out side of the Kimono shop we see the old ways do not mean what they once did. The beauty of nature with marvelous references to cedar trees is a common theme. Chieko is very dedicated to her parents. She is torn between trying to find her past, reunite with her lost at birth twin sister, and finding her own way in life.
There are no great tragedies in the book but a feeling of sadness and loss hangs over the work. The book is about the destruction of a culture steeped in beauty and ritual. There is no mention of the horrific events of the 1940s but it is never far away. One of the things I was moved by in this work was the underlying sense that it was not the true Japanese culture that lead to the death of millions of their own people but the perversion of this culture by those who only half understood it. The Old Capital is about beauty-the beauty of a kimono, a ceder tree, flowers and Chieko and her twin sister. It is about old religions we will never really understand. It is about loneliness. "Good fortune is short, while loneliness is long".
Along the way we can learn some things from this book. We learn about the economics of the kimono business, we see ancient rituals and practices. We also see how rituals can keep us from joy while they protect us from losing ourselves. The Old Capital is a wonderful book that would repay numerous readings. Of the six Japanese novels I have read so far, it seems the purest attempt to create beauty out of nothing. Unlike the other works, it does not rely heavily on plot line to keep one reading.
To me Dolce Bellezza's The Japanese Literature Challenge III challenge is the very apex of what Book Blogger Appreciation week is all about.
I will next review an utterly different work Price Stock by Konzabura Oe.