‘Dandelions’ by Yasunari Kawabata
There’s something special in reading foreign novels, from cultures so different the way books are written can be so contrasting to one’s way of thinking, moreover, it is a nice mental exercise, especially when it comes to a raw and unpolished work; Dandelions is the final and unfinished novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata which was left incomplete when the author committed suicide.
The subject of the story is Ineko, a woman who suffers from a disease translated as “somagnosia”. This disorder may sound familiar as it is the topic of the book shared previously in the blog, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. Ineko occasionally loses sight of faces and the body of her beloved one. The novel opens as Ineko’s mother and her boyfriend, Kuno leave Ineko at the Ikuta clinic, a psychiatric institution. Although the conversations among Ineo’s mother and Kuno are about her we never get to see her or read her, she remains invisible and only known because of the stories and flashbacks the two characters have.
Dandelion takes place in a day building entirely out of conversations between Kuno and Ineko’s mother: As they both agree to stay the night to make sure Ineko is okay the next morning. We see them walk away looking for an Inn while discussing a variety of topics, including Ineko’s childhood, her father’s death, the commencement of her disease, and the characters’ different and sometimes contradictory opinions on the matters. At times the conversation demonstrates in a fun way the differences one generation’s way of thinking differs from one another, at one point after Ineko’s mother talks about Ineko’s guilt for her father’s death he answers: “Somehow people tend to feel that all misfortunes are connected”.
The prose is often broken by oddities in the landscape seen by one of the characters, whether it be a white dandelion or a white rat, a yellow little boy. The novel reminded me a bit of surrealism literature, in the way the characters speak to one another going back in circles to topics they’ve already discussed and the things they see. I learned Kawabata helped create a movement called Neo-Sensualism (which I couldn’t find much information about).
As the novel is unfinished, there’s no way of knowing what would’ve been the fate of Ineko. The story, however, has certain aspects that make you feel she might as well be dead, since the first pages when the doctor tells her relatives to listen for the clinic’s bell and imagine Ineko is the one ringing it. It also evokes the many tragedies in Kawabata’s life. Kawabata grew up with his grandparents after being left orphaned at the age of four, his grandmother died when he was seven, and his grandfather when he was fifteen; His only sister died when he was eleven. When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he spoke about the prevalence of melancholy and suicide in Japanese literature. His close friend Yukio Mishima died in 1970, two years after this Kawabata took his own life.
The thoughts inside the character’s minds often seem to reflect those of Kawabata’s at the end of his life filled with survivor’s guilt. At the beginning of the story we are shown an old man painting a line by poet Ikkyū: “To enter the Buddha world is easy; to enter the world of demons is difficult.” He repeated this same line when he accepted the Nobel Prize:
“For an artist seeking truth, good, and beauty . . . There can be no world of the Buddha without the world of the devil. And the world of the devil is the world difficult of entry. It is not for the weak of heart.”