The Master of Goby Yasunari Kawabata
Go is a game of strategy in which two players attempt to surround each other’s black or white stones. Simple in its fundamentals, infinitely complex in its execution, Go is an essential expression of the Japanese spirit. And in his fictional chronicle of a match played between a revered and heretofore invincible Master and a younger, more modern challenger, Yasunari Kawabata captured the moment in which the immutable traditions of imperial Japan met the onslaught of the twentieth century.
The competition between the Master of Go and his opponent, Otaké, is waged over several months and layered in ceremony. But beneath the game’s decorum lie tensions that consume not only the players themselves but their families and retainers—tensions that turn this particular contest into a duel that can only end in death. Luminous in its detail, both suspenseful and serene, The Master of Go is an elegy for an entire society, written with the poetic economy and psychological acumen that brought Kawabata the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker
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That being said, The Master of Go is anything but standard. In this work, Kawabata addresses his oft considered themes of aging, loss and change, but he does so by describing and adapting a game of Go he reported on for newspaper readers in the 1930's. There is little drama in the novel, as there is little drama in most of his books. Kawabata concerns himself with detail and in that sense this work is as rich as his other novels. There is no way to escape change, old age or death. Perhaps most of Kawabata's life may have been a game of trying to do just that. Needless to say, he did not succeed. I recommend all his works.