23 February 2009

Yasunari Kawabata

[from Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country, tr. Edward G. Seidensticker, Vintage, 1956]

As it became clear to Shimamura that he had from the start wanted only this woman, and that he had taken his usual roundabout way of saying so, he began to see himself as rather repulsive and the woman as all the more beautiful. Something from that cool figure had swept through him after she called to him from under the cedars.

The high, thin nose was a little lonely, a little sad, but the bud of her lips opened and closed smoothly, like a beautiful little circle of leeches. Even when she was silent her lips seemed always to be moving. Had they had wrinkles or cracks, or had their color been less fresh, they would have struck one as unwholesome, but they were never anything but smooth and shining. The line of her eyelids neither rose nor fell. As if for some special reason, it drew its way straight across her face. There was something faintly comical about the effect, but the short, thick hair of her eyebrows sloped gently down to enfold the line discreetly. There was nothing remarkable about the outlines of her round, slightly aquiling face. With her skin like white porcelain coated over a faint pink, and her through still girlish, not yet filled out, the impression she gave was above all one of cleanness, not quite one of real beauty.

. . .

Each time he relaxed his embrace even a little, she threatened to collapse. His arm was around her neck so tight that her hair was rumpled against his cheek. He thrust a hand inside the neck of her kimono.

He added coaxing words, but she did not answer. She folded her arms like a bar over the breast he was asking for.

"What's the matter with you." She bit savagely at her arm, as though angered by its refusal to serve her. "Damn you, damn you. Lazy, useless. What's the matter with you?"

Shimamura drew back startled. There were deep teeth-marks on her arms.

She no longer resisted, however. Giving herself up to his hands, she began writing something with the tip of her finger. She would tell him the people she liked, she said. After she had written the names of some twenty or thirty actors, she wrote "Shimamura, Shimamura," over and over again.

[Seidensticker and Kawabata]

“Do you not, my esteemed master, find this a rather impenetrable passage?” Mr. Seidensticker recalled asking him, ever so gently, during the translation of Snow Country.

“He would dutifully scrutinize the passage, and answer: ‘Yes,’” Mr. Seidensticker wrote. “Nothing more.”

Snow Country

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