Review of Beauty And Sadness, by Yasunari Kawabata
© by Jessica Schneider, 8/22/10
Kawabata reveals to what degree intricacy and complexity can exist among
human relationships within his final published novel, Beauty and Sadness.
Following in the same vein as his taut and spare Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, where
Kawabata effectively condenses life-sized moments into poignant points, Beauty
and Sadness is a great novel that shares many of
these similar strengths. Finishing at a lean 206 pages, much psychological
intensity and artistic craft are set within, and universal themes like love,
jealousy, revenge and manipulation are all handled with subtlety and beauty.
The idea of using beauty to gain power is not something new, but in Beauty
and Sadness we have fully-fleshed characters and moments distilled
memorably just by way of a few dialogue exchanges. In fact, very often it is
what the characters do not say, that reveals the most about them. Oki Toshio is
a novelist traveling to Kyoto to hear the New Year’s Eve Bells with an old
lover, Otoko Ueno. Otoko is a painter who is sexually involved with a young
woman named Keiko. When Oki arrives in Kyoto, we get the sense that he is lonely
and hoping to reconnect with Otoko, but they fail to reconnect in the ways he
hopes. Instead, multiple love triangles unfold, where the young Keiko seduces
the older man that is Oki, yet while the two are engaged within their sex act,
Keiko shouts out Otoko’s name. The reason for this is not what one might
The ending of Beauty and Sadness leaves much to be implied. Similar in ambiguity to the powerful and effective way Kawabata ended Snow Country, Beauty and Sadness shares that same level of ambiguity, albeit differently, yet the characters are still impotent to the circumstance that surrounds them. We are not told everything, and this only heightens the novel’s power. Beauty and Sadness is structurally and lyrically much to be admired and the translation by Howard Hibbett does not disappoint. Here is a slice of true beauty and proof that with beauty does come power.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Popmatters website.]
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