Review of The Izu Dancer & Other Stories, by Yasumari Kawabata and Yasushi Inoue

Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 4/21/10


  This is a rather unusual collection of tales and I was a bit disappointed. First of all, when I purchased this book, I thought this was a collection of Yasumari Kawabata’s short stories, but it actually only contains one of his stories, “The Izu Dancer” while the “other stories” are all by Yasushi Inoue, a writer I still need to familiarize myself with. Obviously, one short story is not enough to get a good sampling of Kawabata’s oeuvre, and I would have liked to have seen more than just one. “The Izu Dancer” is a good story involving a young man hiking though the Izu Peninsula. While meditating on his own loneliness, he bonds with a group of traveling entertainers who among them have a young dancer he feels an affinity for. His prose is crisp, as he uses much of the geographical setting to emotionally evoke the narrator’s state of mind.

  And as just a side note, there is a dumb quote from an unnamed New York Times reviewer on the back of the book that claims that the stories of Kawabata “unfold as quietly and delicately as a fan.” Can we get anymore cultural stereotyping with that one? Yes, the Japanese…they like fans, so obviously Kawabata’s prose must resemble this ridiculous object. What will be next? The writing of some Native American and how “colorful” it is, just like the feathers they wear on their heads? Pass on that review.

The other three stories by Inoue, are translated by Leon Picon (the Kawabata story was translated by Edward Seidensticker), and the best one of the bunch is “The Counterfeiter” which put me in mind of the Orson Welles film F for Fake. “The Counterfeiter” involves a man named Hosen Hara who creates fake art. Much like the Welles’ film, what is real versus what is not are some of the ideas examined, along with pathos, obsession, and desperation.

  The other two tales, “Obasute” and “The Full Moon,” are both good tales, where “Obasute” deals with the idea of the legends about the abandonment of old people upon Mount Obasute, and “The Full Moon” tells the tale of a businessman and his involvement with a woman he meets at a banquet who, despite her desire to use him for his money, also rationalizes her feelings of jealousy over him. The last story didn’t hold the impact for me as much Inoue’s other two tales, (with “The Counterfeiter” being the most memorable) and the Kawabata tale doesn’t much resemble the other tales in the book other than the fact that they both happen to be Japanese writers who sort of write about similar themes…in a way, I guess.

  My complaint doesn’t have much to do with the writing, for both writers offered good prose void of clichés and both seemed to be translated well. However, with such a slim collection (my copy is a tiny book finishing at only 144 pages), one just has to wonder if these were just sort of lumped together for marketing purposes and the sake of a sale. I will say, however, there is a good introduction about Inoue that shares a bit of his personal background, and tells how his orphaned childhood made its way into his work.

  If you’re interested in either of these writers, this collection offers a decent sampling of Inoue, but not of Kawabata. While I would not discourage anyone from reading this particular collection, I recommend seeking out a full collection of Kawabata’s short stories (I’ve heard good things about his Palm-of –the-Hand Stories) or any number of the novels for which he is known. One Kawabata story in this collection is just not enough.


[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website.]


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