Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, September 14, 2009

"The Old Capital" by Yasunari Kawabata-

The Old Capital

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.

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Suzanne Yester said...

This book sounds wonderful! Since my involvement in The Japanese Literature Challenge 3, not only have I found some great books, but some great blogs too! Thanks for sharing this book! The cover is beautiful as well! Doesn't it say something for a novel when it's over 40 years old and we can still enjoy reading it today!

Unknown said...

This sounds like something I'd love to read. I am discovering some amazing books from the Nobel list. I've aded it to my wishlist.I think that is the first time I've done that for a new to me blog!

ds said...

Thank you for this wonderful review, mel. I am adding this book to my list. It sounds fascinating!

Mark David said...

You absorbed the story very well Mel. I particularly agree with what you said that "a feeling of sadness and loss hangs over the work". And you're right that the book, ultimately, is about beauty. I'm glad we gave it the same rating at GoodReads :)

I've just posted my review.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to read your review YET, since the book is on my shelf for In Spring It Is The Dawn's new Japanese reading group. I'll need to finish it before Nov 30th so it might be my next read! And then I'll come back to your review :)

Harvee said...

Very nice review, Mel. It took me a while to get to this book but I agree that the beauty of the Old Capital is the heart of the work. I'm glad I read it.