Monday, October 3, 2011
A mostly forgotten work of Japanese fiction: The Sound of the Mountain
Yasamari (?) Kawabata, of Japan, won the Nobel back in the 1960s or so, and one of the first books published in English after he did so was "The Sound of the Mountain." Who reads it today? I started it yesterday and so far very pleasantly surprised by the novel - from the late 1950s, set in Tokyo (a suburb, I think) - very much focused on one family: an elderly (actually, in his 60s but seems much older) man facing intimations of his death (hearing the sound of the nearby mountain is a sign of death approaching), name Shingo, and the novel explores his complex web of family relations - he and his wife, much more spry and youthful seeming than he (though he notes that in younger years she seemed to be the older one), have two grown children, son and daughter, son lives with them and works with father in same large office, his wife is very sweet and it's obvious that Shingo favors her, maybe even drawn to her sexually. Their other daughter, and two children, comes to stay perhaps to live with them, her marriage in some kind of shambles, the parents obviously find this daughter troubling and difficult. This could remind you in some ways of any of the great Ozu movies, but the relationships are a little more '50s modern - seeming less steeped in traditions of reverence for the elderly and for families. The sexism is amazing to look back on, and seems particularly a facet of Japanese postwar culture: the men, even the very respectable 60ish Shingo, ask secretaries to go out dancing with them after work - nothing you wouldn't see on Mad Men - but in this case there is little or no effort made to keep these relations from the wives - it's all just expected as part of being a Tokyo businessman. Oddly, through the first 50 pages or so there is no mention whatever of the war, the bomb, or the painful recovery from the devastation of the war, let alone any mention of what any of the characters might have done or not done during the war years. It's a domestic drama with a lot of strange, perhaps culturally determined, aspecgs.