The Sound of the Mountain

With the author’s name being Yasunari Kawabata, there is no doubt that this is a Japanese novel, but it is a really-Japanese novel. Written in the 1950s, the novel preserves a Japanese culture that likely has been wiped away by the opening of their society. The reader will promptly understand that they don’t understand the Japanese people, but despite the bizarre nature of the discourse, there is strength in the strictures of their traditions.

The main character is 62-year old Ogata Shingo, an executive coming to the end of his run in business and beginning to take stock of his home life. A home life which began so promisingly, provincial boy meets and marries a striking young beauty, but took a bad turn with his young wife’s death. Her family sent him a plain daughter to assist him after the tragedy and he married her, then fathered a son and daughter. The son and daughter are both disappointments, and both involved in deteriorating marriages.

The one ray of sunshine is his live-in daughter-in-law, Kikuko. Shingo watches while she nobly suffers his son’s brazen adultery. Kind, attentive, beautiful, she becomes the muse who replaces his first wife, his second wife being a blunt, unappealing crone.

The book is interesting in the domestic dynamic between the characters, as to what is and is not appropriate in post-war Japan. There is also the people’s relationship to the natural environment, particularly flora, and descriptions of Japanese landmarks. Not an exciting book, but well done.

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