The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata, based on a true story, tells the story of the highest ranking Go player in all of 1938 Japan, a man named Honnimbo Shusai, as he faces off against a younger challenger named Otake over a tenuous series of months.
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The novel is told from the point of view of a reporter named Uragami, recounting events with a flair for embellishment. At the time in which the story opens, Honnimbo's death is announced. From then on, an elaborate description detailing the events surrounding his final match unfolds.
Honnimbo, for whom Uragami has great reverence, is referred to as the ‘Master of Go.' Growing frail towards the end of his life, he is pitted against the younger Otake. Otake has great respect for Honnimbo and faces health issues of his own, mostly centered around anxiety. He is ambivalent about winning the match, and doesn't wish to shame his opponent.
Suffering from heart problems that culminate in a temporary inability to play, the match is initially postponed. With his anxiety mounting, Otake becomes impatient as circumstances continue to keep the two from squaring off. At one point he threatens to forfeit the match. Eventually, however, the game takes place, even with Honnimbo deteriorating rapidly. Much of the tension from then on out revolves around Honnimbo playing through his physical decline.
The final pages of the book involve a play by play rundown of the match between Honnimbo and Otake. The two are confined in a hotel as the game rages on, concentrating all of their waking attention on the match as it is played out over a series of psychologically relentless weeks. During rest days, which happen infrequently, Otake, riddled with anxiety, returns to his family and tries to cope with the stress of the match. In contrast, Honnimbo appears relaxed and unfazed, and continues to play other games to pass the time.
Late in the game, after months of painstaking engagement, and as Honnimbo's health deteriorates to an even greater degree, Otake, exploiting a loophole left open by Honnimbo in a moment of forgetfulness, ends up triumphing. Days following the match Honnimbo, the Master of Go, ends up passing away, signifying the end of an era in Japanese culture to make way for modern times.
Best part of story, including ending:
I enjoy its thematic elements, in particular dealing with modernity and antiquity.
Best scene in story:
I think it's really sad when the Master expires at the end. I think it echoes the wisdom of his generation, not letting go until he's completed his task.
Opinion about the main character:
Honnimbo is a legendary gambler, and his wit and psychological durability is admirable.