01 June 2014


                by Yasunari Kawabata

There's a novel of my father's that I've been thinking about a lot since he became like this. He wrote about this young man who wanted to be a writer -- the boy had been sending strange letters to him pretty much every day, and then he went completely mad and was sent off to a sanatorium. Pens and inkpots are dangerous, and they said that pencils were dangerous too, so they wouldn't let him have them. Manuscript paper was the only thing they would let him have in his room. Apparently he was always there in front of that paper, writing . . . at least he thought he was writing. But the paper stayed white. That much was true, the rest is my father's novel. Every time the boy's mother came to visit, he would say -- Mom, I wrote it, Mom, will you read it? Mom, will you read it to me? His mother would look at the manuscript he handed her and there would be nothing written on it at all, and she would feel like crying, but she'd say -- Oh, you've written it very well, it's very good, isn't it! -- and she would smile. Every single time she went he would pester her to read the manuscript to him. It occurs to her to tell him stories of her own, making it seem that she's reading the manuscript. That's the main idea behind my father's novel. The mother tells the boy about his childhood. No doubt the crazy boy thinks he's having his mother read some sort of record of his memories, something that we wrote himself -- that's what he thinks he 's listening to. His eyes sparkle with pride. His mother has no idea whether or not he understands what she's saying, but every time she comes to see him she repeats the same story, and she gets better and better at telling it -- it begins to seem like she's actually reading a story of her son's. She remembers things she had forgotten. And the son's memories grow more beautiful. The son is drawing the mother's story out, helping her, changing the story -- there's no way of telling whose novel it is, whether it's the mother's or the son's. When the mother is talking she's so focused she forgets herself. She's able to forget that her son is mad. As long as her son is listening to her with that complete concentration, there's no way of knowing if he's mad or not -- he could very well be mad and sane both. And in those times the souls of the mother and the child fuse together -- it's like the two of them are living in heaven -- and the mother and the child are both happy. As she goes on reading to him it begins to seem that her son might get better, and so the mother goes on reading the blank paper.

 "Silence," in First Snow on Fuji, by Yasumari Kawabata.  Trans. Michael Emmerich. 1999.

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