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Bashō's evocative haiku is referenced by the end of the book, as one of the characters contemplates small drops of fire that, in contrast to the quiet atmosphere of a country made of snow, were floating in the air, ablaze with fury and disenchantment, sheltered by the absolute splendour of the Milky Way. The sublimeness of a firmament under which existence manifests itself in the shape of beauty and sadness.
As always, Bashō depicted an entire universe in three lines. Trifling matters and existential crisis coexist under the breathtaking vastness of a starry night. They live, they breathe; quietly, in raptures. They are likely to sink in the rough, turbulent sea. Tolerating the company of others or facing a self-imposed solitude, like the disgraced inhabitants of Sado Island. Above all these relevant and mundane issues of ours, one finds the Heaven’s River. The Milky Way. Where everything is silence. A distant blanket with scintillating pearls scattered all over it. An ethereal image replete with possibility; with hope. Nature's attempt at pacifying our tantrums and mitigating our misery.
That is how I feel about Kawabata's prose. His minimalistic and poignant style. His sincere and nostalgic voice. A unique melody on a quiet night amid a stream of twinkling stars.
His words are my night sky, my via lactea.
It is rather strange to look at this book and see something I hold dear since it has some condiments I dislike (hence, the absence of a perfect rating). Primarily, a love story. A romanticized love affair. An apparently cold married man with a couple of women in his head. Women giving everything they have, obviously. A dramatic display of each emotion. An abyss of vulnerability. An obstinate behaviour that does not even consider relinquishing everything that is destined to failure. A relationship that was meant to perish in front of the whitened mountains, before it even started.
Snow Country is ready to obliterate any vestige of passion that may disturb its gelid landscape. That is where she belongs. He looks at her from another side of the country. And thus they will remain, concealing any stubborn tear that may wish to appear.
That being said, this novel also brims over nostalgia. The delights of nature. A simple kind of beauty. A Japanese kind of beauty, pure, unadulterated; one that refuses to fall under the spell of Western modernity; desperately trying to preserve its traditions and values. The world of a geisha. Lesson after lesson on how to entertain others with a broken heart.
Seemingly incidental elements that become substantial meditations on the world around us when touched by Kawabata's majestic pen. An avalanche of introspection roaring down a mountainside, seeking for one's attention. Or complete annihilation. Couples and every unexpressed emotion that abided by fear's wishes and satiated their pride. Everywhere.
In any case, this writer's deeply poetic language was fundamental for me to actually enjoy this book. It saved this story from being trite and overly sentimental. There is an imaginative use of the word to convey widely known sentiments. The air was pervaded by the scent of vivid reminiscences; words uttered in an elegiac tone that never felt so alive.
Paraphrasing Byron, the characters of this novel were two parallel lines prolonged to infinity side by side but never to meet, but that could not refrain from trying. One can't help wondering if it is worth letting someone in when parting is already on the horizon; latent, existing...
...after all, the Milky Way illuminating an entire world made of snow might be the only thing some people have in common. Or, perhaps, the reason of it all might rely on the fact that, despite any complication or obstacle that these characters encountered, they were able to elude – for a season, for an instant – Dostoyevsky's idea of hell.
That may also happen under the comforting light of the sun.