Sep 10, 2018
While attending a traditional tea ceremony in the aftermath of his parents’ deaths, Kikuji encounters his father’s former mistress, Mrs. Ota. At first Kikuji is appalled by her indelicate nature, but it is not long before he succumbs to passion—a passion with tragic and unforeseen consequences, not just for the two lovers, but also for Mrs. Ota’s daughter, to whom Kikuji’s attachments soon extend. Death, jealousy, and attraction convene around the delicate art of the tea ceremony, where every gesture is imbued with profound meaning
The past will always follow you. The main character, Kikuji, learns this first hand in Thousand Cranes. After the death of his father, he is pursued by women from his father’s past. There is Chikako, a mistress that his father did not see for long and who constantly meddles in Kikuji’s personal affairs. Then there is his father’s main mistress, Mrs. Ota, and her daughter, Fumiko. These three women are haunted by Kikuji’s father and turn to Kikuji to express their guilt, shame, and envy.
What really captured me about this book was just how irritating these characters were. Chikako was just downright annoying with her constant pestering. Mrs. Ota seemed utterly useless, just crying and (the way I interpreted it) longing for Kikuji’s dead father. I had some hope in Fumiko, who seemed like the most normal out of the three women despite her insistence on absorbing the shame of her mother’s affair with Kikuji’s father. Then there is Kikuji who does nothing and whose only purpose is to serve as a vessel to experience the stories of these three women. I have never disliked so many characters in one book. I also have never wished for redemption for the characters so intensely.
The real kicker about this little novel, however, is how it is written. Kawabata’s prose is hauntingly beautiful. I could feel his words to the core. When Fumiko threw down the Shino, I could sense the desperation and the sorrow. I could picture this woman and the expression on her face, and how her arms would carry the burden of the Shino and fling it to the ground, heavy. It was such a delight to read.
I will say that I feel like I should be over the trope of the frail, overly emotional Japanese women who changes a man’s perspective on life only to, in the end, commit suicide. I don’t know why this is so prominent in the Japanese novels that I have read. It must be cultural and I can firmly say that I don’t get it at all. It does make for good stories, even if it makes it a little infuriating.
Thousand Cranes was a quick read and I devoured it. Admittedly, I picked this book up because I thought it was Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. When I read the summary at the back of the book, I realized it wasn’t that book at all but I decided to take it out anyway. I made a good choice, I think.