The House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories

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Kodansha International, 1969 - Fiction - 149 pages
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From Japan's first Nobel laureate for literature, three superb stories exploring the interplay between erotic fantasy and reality in a loner's mind.

"He was not to do anything in bad taste, the woman of the house warned old Eguchi. He was not to put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything else of that sort." With his promise to abide by the rules, Eguchi begins his life as a member of a secret club for elderly gentlemen who have lost their sexual powers. At an inn several hours from Tokyo they indulge in their last pleasure: lying with beautiful young girls who are sleeping nude when the men arrive. As "House of the Sleeping Beauties" unfolds in Kawabata's subtle prose, the horrified reader comes to see that the sexual excitement is a result not of rejuvenescence, but of a flirtation with death.

The three stories presented in this volume all center upon a lonely protagonist and his peculiar eroticism. In each, the author explores the interplay of fantasy and reality at work on a mind in solitude-in "House of the Sleeping Beauties," the elderly Eguchi and his clandestine trips to his club; in "One Arm," the bizarre dialogue of a man with the arm of a young girl; in "Of Birds and Beasts," a middle-aged man's memories of an affair with a dancer mingled with glimpses of his abnormal attachment to his pets.

All of these stories appear in English for the first time outside of Japan. "Of Birds and Beasts," written in the early 1930's, is one of Kawabata's earlier works, while "One Arm" and "House of the Sleeping Beauties," the latter hailed by novelist Yukio Mishima as the best of Kawabata's works, are among his later works.

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A beautiful, if eerie, exploration of a sixty-seven year old man's struggle to come to terms with the inevitability and imminence of death. It may be that the entire novella plays with the double ... Read full review

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About the author (1969)

YASUNARI KAWABATA was born in 1899. He described himself as a child "without home or family" and became, in the novelist Mishima's words, "a perpetual traveler." He lost his parents in infancy, his grandmother and only sister died shortly afterward, and he was fourteen when his grandfather died. In 1917 he left his native Osaka to enter a school in Tokyo, and in 1927-three years after graduating from Tokyo Imperial University-he published a short novel, The Izu Dancer. Probably his best-known work, Snow Country, was completed in 1947 and has come to typify the sense of loneliness and chilly lyricism associated with the world of Kawabata. In his most fertile decade following the end of World War II he produced The Lake, first serialized in 1954, along with two major novels-The Master of Go and The Sound of the Mountain. House of the Sleeping Beauties was published in the early sixties, and Kawabata was made the first Japanese Nobel laureate for literature in 1968. He died in 1972.

EDWARD SEIDENSTICKER, the translator, was born in Colorado. He attended the University of Colorado, and at the outbreak of the Pacific War was assigned to the Navy Language School, where he studied Japanese. After further work at Columbia and Harvard, he settled in Japan in 1948, and spent over ten years there, the first two as a diplomat. After a spell of teaching at Stanford, in 1966 he became Professor of Japanese at the University of Michigan, and it was during the following years in Ann Arbor that most of The Tale of Genji was translated. He is currently Professor of Japanese at Columbia University, teaching for half the year, and living the remaining half in Tokyo.

Among his other translations are a number of works by Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Kawabata Yasunari, and Mishima Yukio. In recognition of his role in the introduction of Japanese literature abroad, Professor Seidensticker was awarded the prestigious Kikuchi Kan Prize and the Order of the Rising Sun-one of the Japanese government's highest honors.

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