Hello, and happy August! I have reviewed one book this week that I have been eager to read for a while. I have also provided a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need.
Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata,
Translated by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman
“Even if she was laughed at for her exaggerated carefulness—taking those 10 days to buy something that cost a mere forty sen—Yoshiko would not have been satisfied unless she had done so. She had never occasion to regret having bought something on the spur of the moment. It was not that the seventeen-year-old Yoshiko possessed such meticulous discrimination that she spent several days thinking about and looking at something before arriving at a decision. It was just that she had a vague dread of spending carelessly the silver fifty-sen pieces, which had sunk into her mind as an important treasure.”
This is a book of very short stories—they could actually be called flash fiction—written before flash fiction was even a thing. They’re called “Palm-of-the-Hand” stories because they’re so short they can fit onto your palm. An example of this kind of story by Kawabata is this story that I reviewed earlier (but which is unfortunately not included in this collection).
A lot of these stories had great insights into humanity. Each one felt like a little world. Some of them even encompassed entire generations in two or three pages (such as the two-paged “Faces”), and others felt like epics condensed into super-short forms (“Earth”).
Kawabata wrote these stories throughout his life, so you get to see his artistic development. His development didn’t seem like some authors’ developments, like Chekhov, Hemingway, or London, who started out writing awkward/sometimes-really-bad stories and then gradually got better as they continued writing.
Yes, some of Kawabata’s stories felt too subtle to understand, and a few others felt overly-crafted—they were so meticulously made that Kawabata’s intentional repetition of phrases actually drew attention to the artificialness of the story in question. Even so, there weren’t many like this. Kawabata must have already gotten all of his badly-written stories out before going on to publish his palm-of-the-hand stories.
So, instead of seeing how Kawabata developed from a not-good writer to a great writer, I was able to see how he returned to write new pieces about certain themes, ideas, and characters (he loved writing about old men walking alongside young girls, for instance).
One of the most fascinating stories of the collection was “Gleanings From Snow Country.” Kawabata worked on this story throughout his life and only published it right before he died. “Gleanings” is basically a 10-page version of Kawabata’s novel, Snow Country. Having read that book before this one, I was able to find aspects of the same plot, while also noticing how the two differed in their development. In “Gleanings,” Kawabata couldn’t fit in all the detail of his novel, and so some parts of the plot felt vaguely sketch-like. He still hit all the high-points of his novel (while only hinting at the end). Unfortunately though, while “Snow Country” had one of the best sentences I’ve ever read, “Gleanings” didn’t have room for it.
Overall, I would recommend this book if you have never read anything by Kawabata and want to get a taste of him before reading some of his other works. I would also recommend this collection if you are a fan of flash fiction, and if you’re a fan of terrific fiction in general.
Have you read any of Kawabata’s work? Let me know in the comments below!
Now, as promised, here is a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support people in Ukraine:
Global Giving—Provides basic necessities (food, shelter), psychosocial and health support, and economic assistance to Ukrainian refugees. Donate here: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/ukraine-crisis-relief-fund/
Insight—Provides food, permanent shelter, and medicine/hormones to LGBTQI+ Ukrainian refugees. Donate here: https://www.insight-ukraine.org/en/join-donate/
Revived Soldiers Ukraine: Provides medical support to soldiers and civilians. Donate here: https://www.rsukraine.org/
Razom For Ukraine: Provides medical relief for soldiers and doctors on the front line. Donate here: https://razomforukraine.org/