cover image Dandelions


Yasunari Kawabata, trans. from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich. New Directions, $14.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2409-3

As much a philosophical dialogue as a work of fiction, this final, unfinished novel by the Nobel laureate Kawabata (1899–1972) is a gentle study of madness. Suffering from a condition called somagnosia that makes her unable to see the bodies of others, Ineko is committed to a provincial asylum described as “a pool where all the toxins of the human heart accumulate.” Though both her mother and her lover, Kuno, trace Ineko’s condition to her having witnessed her father’s death, they cannot agree on a deeper reason for her suffering. Kuno ascribes the tragedy to fate, while Ineko’s mother wonders whether “each of us carries inside of us the potential for madness.” The pair talk in circles that draw them into an enchanting, if foreboding, past: Ineko’s mother recalls her daughter being the type of child who “felt sorry for fallen flowers.” Though Kawabata’s vision for this novel was never fully realized, the beauty and wisdom seeping out of every sentence still infuse it with enormous emotional potency. As Kuno finally settles down to sleep, he asks Ineko’s mother, “Life goes on, from a child to the child’s child, but for how long?” In the case of the characters captured here, not nearly long enough. (Dec.)