I'm hovering between 3 and 4 stars for this book and I can't decide, because I liked some of the stories, others depressed me, while one in particular was horrifying. I mostly feel like a superficial and uninitiated reader who stood at the foot of a complex work, but was not able to grasp it. Moreover, I let my personal weaknesses flood my perceiving of Kawabata's writing, judging it and condemning it for the uncomfortable and unbearable feelings he aroused inside me.
I don't even know whom to recommend this book to - people in a joyful state might see their happiness slip through their fingers, while people who are already sad will find themselves on the brink of depression. I might recommend it to the few that are in possession of a clear, balanced mind, as only they could appreciate the disjointed, chaotic world peopled by Kawabata's troubled characters.
There is not one single happy soul in this collection of short stories, with themes like alienation, loss, deception or cruelty. The wife of a scientist, whose husband is obsessed with having children, is unhappy in her marriage and feels attracted to a younger girl; a man literally on fire is brought to a hospital full of dying people, with a sad story of their own; a girl abandoned by her lover talks to his soul after he dies; survivors of war, homeless and starving, can no longer find their place in the post-war Japan; a widow remembers how she used to project the world in a mirror, for the comfort of her dying husband.
The sole exception among these plagued characters might be the orphaned student who becomes infatuated with a teenage dancing girl; he is not yet damaged by life, although he is pursued by melancholy. The Dancing Girl of Izu
was my favorite story, along with Moon in Water
. It seems wrong though to use notions as 'like' or 'enjoy' regarding Kawabata's stories in this collection. They are tormenting, unsettling and guarantee for the most unpleasant of reading experiences. The most horrifying was the story about a collector of birds who assumes the role of God with his live possessions, with power of life and death upon them. It's disturbing to enter this man's mind and taste his indifference towards life, whether it's the beating heart of a puppy or that of a bird. I felt sick while reading this.
I feel my review is not doing justice to this book, but I might come back to these stories after reading some more Kawabata novels. I might understand them better. I might even surpass my weaknesses. I wish I could.