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The Lake    by Yasunari Kawabata order for
by Yasunari Kawabata
Order:  USA  Can
Kodansha International, 2004 (1974)
* *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Yasunari Kawabata, Japan's first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is a literary legend in his own country. Born in 1899, Kawabata essentially grew up without any family as his parents, sibling and grandparents died when he was a child. Kawabata has been called a 'perpetual traveler' due to his lack of ties to family and a home. He received the Nobel Prize in 1968 and committed suicide in 1972. The Lake is one of his most modern novels and this reissue will likely draw new fans to Kawabata's literary works. The novel was translated by Reiko Tsukimura.

Though a slim novel, The Lake speaks volumes about its main character. Gimpei, who is in his thirties, was a schoolteacher until inappropriate contact with a female student ended his teaching career. At the beginning of the novel, Gimpei is a transient and a fugitive, due to an unnamed criminal act against another person. As Gimpei travels on foot, he meets various people, although his main attraction is toward young women. He experiences hallucinations and what can only be described as a visceral reaction when he is near a young female who attracts him. He initiates inappropriate conversations with young women, asking bizarre questions and essentially becoming too personal with a stranger. As can be expected, women do not welcome his presence and he faces constant rejection.

These rejections remind Gimpei of his past and the novel abruptly swings back and forth in time from the present day to Gimpei's childhood. His father was murdered when Gimpei was a child. As a young adolescent, Gimpei held an unrequited love for a female cousin, Yayori. Yayori's family rejected Gimpei's after his father was murdered, viewing that the father abandoned them. Clearly, Gimpei's childhood impacted him and continues to affect his adult life. He sets his sights on a young Japanese girl whom he sees one day walking her dog. He begins trailing this young woman and becomes a stalker of sorts. Gimpei is reaching out to beauty that he has never had. But his repugnant nature prevents him from receiving the attention he craves, and beauty is out of his grasp.

While some readers may be turned off Gimpei's pathetic and distasteful existence in The Lake, fans of literary fiction will recognize the novel for what it is an impressive performance of psychological free association that weaves together past and present in a troubled man's mind.

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