Dandelions by Yasunari Kawabata (Translated by Michael Emmerich) - review by Lesley Downer

Lesley Downer

For Whom the Bell Tolls



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Yasunari Kawabata, one of Japan’s best-loved writers, was the first from the country to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Every Japanese can quote the opening sentence of Kawabata’s most famous novel, Snow Country: ‘The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country.’ Dandelions was his last book, which he began writing in 1964, when he was sixty-five, and never finished. He died by his own hand in 1972 – a fitting end for a writer, according to his Nobel Prize acceptance speech (included as an afterword in this book). Suicide, he writes sternly, is not a form of enlightenment. Nevertheless, he quotes with approval the writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who found his appreciation of beauty hugely enhanced by the knowledge that he would soon die: ‘Nature is beautiful because it comes to my eyes in their last extremity.’ (Akutagawa killed himself at the age of thirty-five.)

Dandelions is suffused with the mood of strangeness and melancholy for which Kawabata is celebrated, though there is savagery here too. In some ways it’s a meditation on death, madness and sanity, reality and illusion, age and youth. It’s the story of Ineko, who suffers from somagnosia, a mysterious affliction

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