Author: Yasunari Kawabata
Translator: Edward G. Seidensticker
Publisher: Penguin UK
Publishing Date: 6 January 2011
Languages: Japanese and English
“It’s remarkable how we go on year after year, doing the same old things. We get tired and bored, and ask when they’ll come for us”
I bought The Sound Of The Mountain in 2018 but never got around to reading it until a few days ago. I regret not reading it sooner. I denied myself the pleasure of this lyrical and beautiful story for a long time. Though this is a novel, Kawabata’s writing reads almost like poetry. I have got so many thoughts about The Sound Of The Mountain, there is no way I can pen them all down in this review. But I can try.
The protagonist of this novel is Ogata Shingo, a 62 year old man living with his family in Kamakura. After thirty years of marriage love and passion have long disappeared from Shingo and Yasuko’s marriage. Shingo’s memory is failing him and he’s preoccupied with his family’s concerns. His son Shuichi, even though he is married, has a mistress. His daughter, Fusako has left her husband and come back home with her two daughters. Shingo is particularly concerned about his daughter-in-law Kikuko. She’s unhappy in her marriage due to her husband’s philandering ways.
Shingo’s memory is failing and he feels as if his life is gradually slipping away. The world around him is changing and not always for the better. He’s at an age where many of his friends are dead or are succumbing to illness. He experiences a strong sense of loss throughout the novel. At night, when he is unable to sleep, he hears the rumble from the mountain. Shingo associates this sound with his inevitable death.
The Sound Of The Mountain, on the surface, seems like a pretty straightforward story about a family living in post-war Japan. But as you flip through the pages, you realise how many layers it has. This was my first book by Yasunari Kawabata and I must confess how much I appreciated it. The way he has dissected human relationships and emotions is extremely compelling.
I felt drawn into a world that was so different from my own. The Sound Of The Mountain seems like a simple story about a family dealing with problems we have all experienced at some point in life. The conversations, their mundane routine and relationships with each other are nothing out of ordinary. It is only after you finish the novel that you can truly grasp the crisis of identity and existence.
The Sound Of The Mountain is a quiet, introspective novel about a man who is coming to terms with his own mortality. The novel is a meditation on death and ageing. It questions whether parents are responsible for the sins of their children. Kawabata’s writing is simple and spare. It feels like reading Haiku. The pace is maintained throughout the novel. The world portrayed in The Sound Of The Mountain is delicately conveyed like the brushstrokes of a watercolour painting.
Readers who require a definite ending maybe disappointed, but it still makes for a wonderful read. The Sound Of The Mountain is a dazzling masterpiece which immaculately captures the changing roles of love and the truth we face in ageing.