Nobel prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata is noted for his combination of a traditional Japanese aesthetic with modernist, often surreal trends. In these three tales, superbly translated by Edward Seidensticker, erotic fantasy is underlaid with longing and memories of past loves.
In the title story, the protagonist visits a brothel where elderly men spend a chaste but lecherous night with a drugged, unconscious virgin. As he admires the girl’s beauty, he recalls his past womanizing, and reflects on the relentless course of old age.
In One Arm, a young girl removes her right arm and gives it to the narrator to take home for the night; a surreal seduction follows as he tries to allay its fears, caresses it, and even replaces his own right arm with it.
The protagonist of Of Birds and Beasts prefers the company of his pet birds and dogs to people, yet for him all living beings are beautiful objects which, though they give him pleasure, he treats with casual cruelty.
Beautiful yet chilling, richly poetic yet subtly disturbing, these stories make compelling reading and reaffirm Kawabata’s status as a world-class writer.