I was shocked, when I first came to this part of the world, that not every literary person had read Kawabata. Desperately I tried to persuade everyone I know to read Kawabata so we could talk about how great he was, as soon as possible.
The story I’d use to make my pitch is ‘The House of the Sleeping Beauties’. It probes the themes of the obsession towards youthful female bodies and the dread about one’s pending mortality and renders them into a quiet and stifling entity.
At the end of the story, Eguchi – the old man who visited the House to admire the fresh-faced beauty – didn’t die, it was someone else who passed away. Although the death was denied by the woman of the house, Eguchi felt certain that the sleeping girl had turned into a corpse in the middle of the night. He would not be persuaded otherwise, because the truth was, this was exactly what he’d hoped to find in the House of Sleeping Beauties – the eventuality of mortality.
First published in Japanese in 1961. First published in English in The House of the Sleeping Beauties Kodansha, 2004