7 September 2009

Yasunari Kawabata, Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, 1988

— In these brief and intense tales, all aimed at some heightened perception or ineffable truth and many based on dreams expressed or implied, we find loneliness, love, the passage of time, and death. Palm-of-the-Hand Stories captures the astonishing variety and complexity of form, setting, character, voice, and tone of one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary talents.

Seventy miniature short stories that Kawabata wrote between 1923 and 1972. It’s said the essence of Kawabata’s writing can be found in these brief episodes in Japanese lives more so than in his novels, but in truth they often feel like fragments of larger stories that Kawabata may have discarded then stripped down to their absolute minimum. Many end with a character staring into the distance, perhaps wondering something, or with an unresolved issue still hanging uncomfortably in the reader’s mind, but there’s also a sense of give-and-take here because while Kawabata often goes for the minimalist effect he’s also careful not to remove the points and markers that can give his characters an often luminous form. It’s interesting to read short stories composed differently from the way we are used to experiencing them, though the reader may still be left with a small sense of dissatisfaction with many, although those written nearer the end of Kawabata’s career are rounded off with more depth: best of all is the brief, impressive ghost story ‘Immortality’, the imaginative flourish of ‘Snow’, and ‘Gleanings from Snow Country’, loosely connected to his famous novel Snow Country. Altogether gentle and enjoyable, but frequently too slight.  PY


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