“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky. The train pulled up at a stop signal.”
These are the first sentences of “Snow Country,” a Nobel Prize-winning novel by Yasunari Kawabata. They may not be so famous as opening lines of such novels as “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen or “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville.
Among Asian novels, however, the opening lines of “Snow Country” may be the most well-known. One irony is that the translation seemingly fails to bring out the original meaning of the Japanese words. Translations are always difficult.
Snow Country is about a love affair between a married Tokyo traveler and a geisha in a provincial hot spring town, which becomes an isolated “snow country” during winter. Another pitiable lady makes the relationship complicated.
Its narrative, however, does not seem very impressive.
The author started the novel in 1935 when Japan was full of imperialistic ambition, and managed to come up with the final form in 1948 by combining nine separately published works.
Sometimes, the story lines are opaque. Sometimes, they sound like a fantasy. But the novel is not about rational reasoning, it is about the feelings of two ill-fated lovers in a small winter town. No morals kick in to criticize the infidelity.
This is a very short novel. It is not a desktop book but a coffee table one.
While awarding Kawabata the Nobel Prize in 1968, the Nobel Committee cited three novels _ “The Old Capital” and “Thousand Cranes” along with “Snow Country.”
After reading “Snow Country,” people would be reminded of the novel when they meet the opening lines of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Anna Karenina.”
The former is: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
And the latter is “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”