This article is also available in: Italiano
“The sound of the mountain” by Yasunari Kawabata is a book of rare beauty able to make you feel more than ever the spirit and elegance of the Japanese postwar period.
Before starting to talk about the novel, a necessary clarification is necessary: despite having had a period of my life in which I became very interested in the Far East and its thought (in particular figures such as Confucius, Lao Tzu, Tsunemoto, etc … ), my knowledge about this world is considerably less than what I think I have about the Middle East and the “Islamic world”; consequently do not take what I am about to do as “absolute” analyzes, but as mere considerations of a layman who has read this book and fell in love with it.
Let me know if you are curious to read more books from China and Japan, I would already have Minamoto Tsunemoto’s “Hagakure” ready (with some micro-references and comparisons with the Sufi world) and right now I’m reading “Snow Country” by Kawabata.
The Sound of the Mountain
“The sound of the mountain”, which appeared in 1949, is considered with “Snow Country”, Kawabata’s greatest novel, the 1968 Nobel Prize for literature. The central character of the book is Shingo, a sensitive and restless man, absorbed in the dreams and sadness of the past, in the terrors and premonitions of the present. Faced with the unstoppable decay of his life and family, Shingo becomes more and more closely tied to Kikuko, the young and unhappy wife of his son. The mysterious signals of nature, the “sound of the mountain”, a chestnut hedgehog falling, while the ritual sake cups are exchanged, are, in Shingo’s life, an incitement, as if he were at a crucial point, if he were the time has come to decide.
The story is simple: Shingo, the elderly head of the family, hears the “sound of the mountain” and from that moment he really perceives the arrival of death and a sort of “awakening” begins in him that will lead him to solve the problems related to his two sons, Shuichi and Fusako; the first has long been cheating on his wife, Kikuko, while the second has serious problems with her husband Aihara, who turns out to be “not exactly a saint”. Kikuko, however, turns out to be not only “Shuichi’s wife”, but a character capable of profoundly changing Shingo’s thought and psyche, transforming himself into a sort of angel-guide towards the happiness of the whole family.
Her appearance, her sweetness and her grace bring back to the mind of the head of the family the wife’s sister (in the book she is never called by name), a girl with divine traits who should have married Shingo, only to marry another equally exceptional man and die shortly thereafter. The dishonor and sadness brought by the son to the young daughter-in-law will push our protagonist to go in person to his lover’s house, definitively putting an end to the suffering of the family and bringing it back to an atmosphere of peace and serenity.
What really struck me personally, in addition to the extremely pleasant and intriguing plot, is the absolutely and completely Japanese way of telling things. Nature in particular has an extremely precise and central role within the novel as it not only expresses incredible beauty and elegance, but is also, in a sense, a manifestation of what Shingo feels and perceives, making the his reflections in the shade of flowers and trees something unique, delicate and fascinating, almost at the level of poetry in prose.
Even in the parts set in the city, however, the air you breathe is more Japanese than ever, moreover in an extremely crucial moment in the history of this country or the postwar period, a moment in which Japan was more than ever forced to open up and introduce a series of new regulations both of a bureaucratic nature (the years will be counted differently) and of clothing, “Western” in the office and Japanese in the home. From this point of view, Shingo and Shuichi represent the generational antipodes, with the latter appearing to have acquired most of his bad habits during the Second World War. Always present then a sort of Japanese rigidity and “ceremoniousness” that permeates the entire book, giving it a rare elegance and refinement.
“The sound of the mountain” is a beautiful and fascinating book, able to convey more than ever the spirit and passion of a country that is unique in the world.
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