The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata

The Sound of the Mountain - Yasunari Kawabata

Kawabata uses Ogata Shingo as his narrator and prime character to tell the story of a 62-year-old man immersed in unhappiness, who feels death closing in on him. Shingo lives with his wife, Yasuko (the plain sister of the beautiful woman who was, in his youth, his one true love); his son, Shuichi who ignores his wife for his mistress; and resentful daughter whose own marriage has failed. He has long ceased to love Yasuko, more highly regarding the relationship with his young and innocent daughter- in- law, Kikuko, as the only bit of life and happiness in his aging years. Kawabata's sympathetic treatment warms Shingo's character in spite of his flaws ; his natural sense of life allows us to see his world, and empathize.


Stopped in his path to gaze:
The crown of a sunflower's head,
A wish for Renewal.*


Through Kawabata's beautifully written Haiku-style prose: the marital struggles of Shingo's daughter Fusako; the loneliness and melancholy of Kikuko's disappointing marriage to Shuichi, whose aloofness and unfaithfulness are shaped from the male-egoist facility of Japanese society of the time: are closely observed.


Deep are their hearts in sadness;
Spring blooms have left the garden,
And weeds are sown instead.*


Shingo who , in a fleeting moment, might forget how to fasten his tie or recall the day's activities with difficulty, yet with the minutest detail, could conjure up with vividness a love long dead. Life in Shingo's perception moves in a flow of days, events and actions that waltz back and forth in time, as the placement of sounds are linked with a slip of the mind; a dim remembrance; a glimpse of a bygone association; a shadow of an earlier scene; a memory evoked by a flash of light or resonating timbre.


Faint echoes blow in the wind.
The distant mountain rumbles;
An old man's faded memory.*


The Sound of the Mountain is a heartfelt psychological study of the dynamics of a multigenerational family, seen through the eyes of an aging patriarch who feels the burden of responsibility for his children, and tries unsuccessfully to fix their problems.


Autumn has begun;
The buds from the gingko tree
Cannot be mature.*


Kawabata's novel is a poetic tapestry of human relations, of the beauty and sadness inherent in nature, of life and death, of memories and lost loves fading in and out. The Sound of the Mountain is a cluster of allusions beautifully presented in haiku tones. This was the best I've read so far of Yasunari Kawabata -it is truly an artistic literary gift!


* my-aiku