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Another side of Yasunari Kawabata: A review of "The Lake"

Updated on January 9, 2013

Photo of Yasunari Kawabata

Book review - "The Lake" by Yasunari Kawabata

Yasunari Kawabata was born in 1899. At an early age he found himself an orphan. His novels reflect a loneliness tinged with an elegaic quality that is uniquely Japanese. Although Japan's first Nobel laureate is most famous for gentle understated novels such as "Snow Country" and "The Sound of the Mountain" he also probed the darker side of the Japanese psyche.

In "The Lake" the central character, Gimpei, is a self-obssessed stalker who perptually follows young girls while remembering his unhappy childhood and other girls he had stalked. The novel is very modern in its introverted narrative technique that shifts between the present and the sad perverted memories that are continually being processed in Gimpei's head.

Gimpei survived being a soldier in the First World War and became a school teacher. He stalked a student and briefly had a relationship with the girl before the pair were discovered. He lost his job and the student moved school. After that point Gimpei moves further apart from ordinary society and retreats more into his fantasy world, often only being bought back by violence or the sight of his ugly feet. In some ways the unappealing and doomed character reminds me of Dostoevsky's underground man. And like the underground man, Gimpei is offered the chance of real human companionship but rejects it because of his self indulgent neurosis.

"The Lake" climaxes with Gimpei following his latest victim and covertly giving her a cage of fireflies. Afterwards he slinks away and lies on the steep bank of the local lake and has a negative epiphany relating to the child he had abandoned:

"When Gimpei reached the foot of the bank, he tried to climb up it, but got cramp and clung to the green grass...but he crawled up on his hands and knees. And as he moved, a baby crawled in the earth beneath him, matching its palms against his as if across a mirror."

Those who felt "Snow Country" was somewhat unsatisfying because of its gentle tone will be shocked that the same novelist wrote such a modern and disturbing book about a repugnant character. Kawabata's main theme was beauty and its briefness. In this book he investigates the connection between beauty, obssession and ugliness. An ongoing problem for Japan with its myriad of voyeuristic porn for sale and its continued tolerance of men feeling up women on crowded trains.

Buy "The Lake" (and othe novels) by Yaunari Kawabata now on Amazon


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      10 years ago

      I didn't know about 'The Lake'. I've just finished reading it; and yes, it was rather disturbing and 'modern'


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