Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata tells the story of Shimamura, a quiet, observant man enjoying a charmed life and who, at a snow country hotel replete with hot springs, develops an odd and intractable relationship with a Geisha named Komako.
Click here to see the rest of this review
The story begins on a train, in which Shimamura is bound for a resort town in the snow country of rural Japan. He notices two passengers on the train—a woman, Yoko, who is accompanying an ill and febrile man named Yukio. Though Shimamura doesn't develop a relationship with the two of them until later on in the novel, the encounter is not a coincidence.
The reason Shimamura is heading to the resort in the first place is to rekindle some semblance of a relationship with Komako, a geisha he met during a previous visit. He is notably obsessed with the impeccable nature of her appearance, how clean and preened she is. Though it is assumed that a geisha exists to attend to a man's needs without getting involved with him emotionally, Shimamura, due to ambiguous feelings he has towards Komako, is hesitant to get involved. He also frets what will happen if he were to bring his family with him to the town in the future. Eventually the two become involved regardless, however, enmeshing themselves in a turbulent relationship.
Komako, in particular, begins to experience emotional fallout. Shimamura, though nervous that she is falling for him too hard, doesn't do much to bring the relationship to a halt. The two undergo a series of blowouts mostly initiated by Komako, in which, drunk, she repeatedly orders Shimamura to leave before almost immediately begging him to stay. Shimamura appears able to remove himself emotionally from the situation, and stands by patiently during her tirades.
In the second half of the book, it becomes known that the music teacher Komako lives in is the mother of the sickly man Shimamura encountered on the train, Yukio. It is also revealed that the woman travelling with him,Yoko, is his live-in nurse. Komako and Yoko are at odds; their relationship is fraught with repulsion for reasons that go unexplained. While receiving a massage from a masseuse at the spa, Shimamura receives a rumor that Yukio and Komako were engaged at one point, and that when he became ill, Komako became a geisha to assume the role of primary breadwinner. It becomes a matter of speculation then that Yoko and Yukio became involved at a later date, driving a wedge of jealousy between the two women that persists to this day.
Shimamura then leaves the resort. In the final pages of the book, he returns one more time only to find that both Yukio and his mother have died. Yoko, by then living in the house alone following Komako's departure, pleads with Shimamura to take her with him back to Tokyo. Shimamura makes an excursion into the region surrounding the town, and comes back to find Komako around nightfall at the hotel in which he is staying. The town, he discovers then, is in the midst of mayhem. A warehouse being used as a makeshift movie theater has been set on fire. Shimamura and Komako arrive together only to see Yoko's body fall from one of the balconies.
In the last scene, Komako carries her injured, or possibly dead body through the streets, while Shimamura marvels at the beauty of the night sky.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really enjoy how this story deals with aspects of love and relationships, particularly between a married man and a geisha.
Best scene in story:
I think the last scene, when Komako carries Yoko's body through the streets. Its touching and symbolic.
Opinion about the main character:
I don't think I dislike anything about him, save for the fact that he's a bit stale. I love his ruminations on nature.