The Dandelion

It’s impossible to trust any text that’s incomplete, and Kawabata’s novel The Dandelion (also Dandelions, Tanpopo) was published posthumously and unfinished (in 1972). An editor’s mindset kicked in while reading this (an exercise in itself), and I wonder if the author might have scrapped this ragged story if he’d lived longer. Polishing it would’ve done away with the repetition and inconsistency, but the whole thing doesn’t feel like it could be ironed out into anything on par with Kawabata’s other novels. Kafka died before finishing The Castle, but reading that you get a clear idea of where he was going with it. The Dandelion, on the other hand, comes across as half-baked.

Kawabata possibly realized it was a dud… There’s an exchange in the last few pages that starts with Ineko’s mother bringing up the phrase tōne no sasu kane—a bell with a distant ring. She says, “It’s a nice way to describe the sound of an old bell, don’t you think?” To which Ineko’s lover replies, “A distant ring. Yes, that’s nice, and you could say that about this conversation, too.” The book up to this point has mostly been this conversation, long and wandering, between the two. The mother, channeling Kawabata, I imagine, comes back with, “Don’t be ridiculous—not this random chatter.”

I agree.

There are some wonderful Kawabata-ish descriptions and sentences here, though. These make it worthwhile to read, but its lack of cohesion and rather stagnant plot make it unenjoyable overall.