The Sound of the Mountain

The Sound of the Mountain



The Pequod Review:

Yasunari Kawabata’s fifth novel is delicate and poetic, as it describes the inner thoughts of an aging Japanese patriarch (Ogata Shingo). Told from Shingo’s perspective, the book focuses mainly on his personal life — his relationships with his children, his increasing forgetfulness in old age, and his love for the natural world. The overall story is a bit elusive, but Kawabata’s prose has a meditative beauty. Here for example is a pivotal moment when Shingo wakes up in the middle of the night and hears the sound of a nearby mountain:

In these mountain recesses of Kamakura the sea could sometimes be heard at night. Shingo wondered if he might have heard the sound of the sea. But no – it was the mountain.

“It was like wind, far away, but with a depth like a rumbling of the earth. Thinking that it might be in himself, a ringing in the ears, Shingo shook his head.

The sound stopped, and he was suddenly afraid. A chill passed over him, as if he had been notified that death is approaching. He wanted to question himself, calmly and deliberately, to ask whether it had been the sound of the wind, the sound of the sea, or a sound in his ears. But he had heard no such sound, he was sure. He had heard the mountain.

It was as if a demon had passed, making the mountain sound out.

Here Shingo describes the impact of aging, as he can no longer tie a tie:

Why should he suddenly this morning have forgotten a process he had repeated every morning through the forty years of his office career? His hands should have moved automatically. He should have been able to tie his tie without even thinking.

It seemed to Shingo that he faced a collapse, a loss of self. 

Other sections are so spare that they seem nearer to haiku than prose:

The moon was in a blaze. Or so, just then, it seemed to Shingo.

The clouds around the moon made him think of flames behind Acala in a painting, or a painting of a fox-spirit. They were coiling, twisting clouds.

But the clouds, and the moon too, were cold and faintly white. Shingo felt autumn coming over him.

The moon, high in the east, was almost full. It lay in a blaze of clouds, it was dimmed by them.

There were no other clouds near the blaze in which the moon lay. In a single night after the storm the sky had turned a deep black.

The Sound of the Mountain is simple and captivating, and one of Kawabata’s more underrated novels.