The 'Palm-of-the-Hand' stories, most of which are just 2-4
pages long, are set against a backdrop of day-to-day
Japanese life in cities, small towns and the
Each story is a miniature gem, rich in poetic imagery
and concocted with an economy of words that does not
detract from Kawabata's natural art of storytelling.
Included in the collection is a heavily abridged version
of Snow Country, one of the novels that Kawabata is best
known for and which contributed to his becoming the
first Japanese recipient of the Nobel prize for
The simplicity of Kawabata's construction belies the
complexity of each story, be it about love or death,
time or loneliness.
It is as if Kawabata has taken a longer story and
dissected away all extraneous detail without diluting
the power of his message or the appeal of its
Generally profound, and at times surreal, haunting,
amusing or disturbing, the Palm-of-the-Hand stories
represent a diverse description of miniature scenes:
interactions between lovers, sensations of loss or
longing, or ruminations on the pursuit of happiness.
The 70 stories collected here span 50 years of output
from 1923 to 1972 and thus reflect the considerable
changes in Japan during this period. On rare occasions
it seems that the translation may have failed to convey
the true spirit of the story. Perhaps this perception
arises because some stories will, necessarily, have
reduced impact outside of the cultural crucible of
Nonetheless, these are a minority and remain interesting
for the very same reason that they are not entirely
The remainder have an impact disproportionate to their
A true master of his craft, Kawabata’s descriptive
narrative and realistic characterisation are capable of
provoking emotional reaction in spite of the shortness
of his tales.
Few writers are capable of saying so much in pieces
of such brevity. These short and bittersweet portraits
of Japanese life are sublime.