Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) was the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, winning it in 1968 for his prose work, specifically The Old Capital, Thousand Cranes and Snow Country (the Limited Editions Club edition of which reviewed here). His works are certainly classics of Japanese literature, though due to their broad appeal have become classics of World Literature. Kawabata began writing Snow Country, often considered his masterpiece, in 1934. It was published in installments between 1935 and 1947. Snow Country takes place in a very lonely, cold and snowbound region in the mountains of northern Japan, in a town with hot springs called Yuzawa. The stark setting permeates the story, the isolation of which providing a perfect backdrop to what comes across as an equally desolate affair between a Tokyo dilettante and a provincial geisha.
The 1990 Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition of Snow Country is a masterful production, presenting this work in an equally stark, yet beautiful, package. The edition was designed by artist Tadaaki Kuwayama, who also proved five aquatints for illustrations. Kuwayama’s works have been displayed in scores of solo and group exhibitions (including at the Guggenheim). He is famous for what the Guggenheim calls his “highly reductive painting, producing canvases with brightly colored fields of paint in horizontal and vertical compositions.” His artistic exploration of minimalist themes seems a good match for Kawabata’s aesthetic of art for art’s sake.
Long time Books and Vines readers know that I sometimes struggle with the use of modernist art for illustrating works of literature as I find it more difficult to understand or appreciate how such illustrations accomplish the critical task of complementing the literature (I am a classicist at heart, with a bias towards more traditional forms of artistic illustration). However, Kuwayama’s work created for this Snow Country edition feels apropos and certainly looks fantastic within the context of the overall book layout (especially his cream/white work, as well as the black). Kawabata, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, talked about Zen Buddhism and the predominant role of simplicity in such, including how beauty (and meaning) comes from simplicity. In his work for this edition, Kuwayama seems to use his artistic form to strive for that beauty and meaning in a manner that Kawabata would appreciate. Both the writer and artist believe what is left undrawn (or untold) is an important part of the story.
As always in LEC editions (especially Shiff-era), the reproduction of the art work is as good as it gets. Here, the aquatint plates were made by Peter Pettengill and editioned at Wingate Studio on stunning paper from the ancient Richard de Bas paper mill. The type is set in Monotype Bodoni, with titling in Bauer Bodoni, at the Golgonooza Letter Foundry by Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari and is printed on a rough finish mould-made Italian paper from the Magnami Mill in Pesci. The printing was done by the Shagbark Press in Portland, Maine under the supervision of David Wolf and Henry Milliken. As you will see in the pictures below, the white space is extremely generous in part due to the large 11-1/4″ x 14-1/4″ canvas. It, along with the type choice (and size) and illustrations, exudes starkness. The binding was done by John von Isakovics at Jovonis Bindery in dark gray-blue full goatskin dyed in England. The book comes in a slipcase clad in natural linen. The translation is by noted translator and scholar of Japanese literature, Edward Seidensticker (1921-2007).
In short, this is the edition to have of Snow Country. The artwork and design by Tadaaki Kuwayamam, the landmark translation by Seidensticker, all packaged using the best artisans and materials: Wingate Studio, Golgonooza Letter Foundry, Richard de Bas, Magnami, Jovonis Bindery. In fine condition, this will typically cost $800-1200 dollars (watch out for sunned spines!).
About the Edition
- Designed by Tadaaki Kuwayama
- Translated by Edward Seidensticker
- Illustrated with 5 aquatints by Tadaaki Kuwayama
- The aquatint plates were made by Peter Pettengill and editioned at Wingate Studio on Richard de Bas paper
- Type set in Monotype Bodoni, with titling in Bauer Bodoni, at the Golgonooza Letter Foundry by Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari
- Rough finish mould-made italian paper from the Magnami Mill in Pescia
- Printing done at the Shagbark Press in Portland, Maine under the supervision of David Wolf and Henry Milliken
- Bound by by John von Isakovics at Jovonis Bindery in dark gray-blue full goatskin dyed in England; Slipcase is clad in natural linen
- Large quarto, 11-1/4″ x 14-1/4″
- Limited to 375 numbered copies signed by the artist and by the translator
Pictures of the Edition
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