Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Rainbow

Kawabata Yasunari

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Rainbow

Title: The Rainbow
Author: Kawabata Yasunari
Genre: Novel
Written: 1951 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 215 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Rainbow - US
The Rainbow - UK
The Rainbow - Canada
Arcobaleni - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: 虹いくたび
  • Translated by Haydn Trowell

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : effectively atmospheric

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 30/11/2023 Bryan Karetnyk
The Japan Times . 21/12/2023 Eric Margolis
The Straits Times . 3/12/2023 Walter Sim
The Telegraph . 27/10/2023 Christopher Harding
Wall St. Journal . 10/11/2023 Brad Leithauser

  From the Reviews:
  • "So steeped is Kawabata’s fiction in Japanese culture that it has often been thought to strain at the limits of what is translatable. Here, in Haydn Trowell’s sparse, arresting prose, the figures’ private tragedies are set amid scenes of classical refinement. (...) Yet among these vistas of old Japan -- reminiscent of woodblock prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige -- the more familiar anxieties of a new age encroach, making this perhaps one of Kawabata’s most approachable yet disturbing works. (...) What commends it most, however, is its resistance to nostalgia in the face of catastrophe and its determination to find moments of transcendence amid tragedy." - Bryan Karetnyk, Financial Times

  • "Translator Haydn Trowell embraces Kawabata’s sensitive world of art with English tinged with archaisms, allowing readers to dip their toes into Japanese high art and culture. When there isn’t a dramatic conversation in The Rainbow, there is instead a vivid description (.....) By rendering the characters' voices as stiffly formal, Trowell's translation places them in a psychological realm far from our own. With such a gulf, it will be up to each reader as to whether they feel something relevant in The Rainbow, or if it is simply a beautiful relic of another age." - Eric Margolis, The Japan Times

  • "Kawabata’s sparse, delicate prose means little is explicitly said and plenty is implied (.....) Seventy years since The Rainbow was first published, it is a marvel to read, akin to a time capsule that reflects the Japanese psyche and social mores of a bygone, evanescent era." - Walter Sim, The Straits Times

  • "From maple leaves against a wide blue sky to black camellias standing in a bamboo vase, Kawabata’s prose gives pride of place to fleeting moments of natural beauty, which inspire in his protagonists the reflections -- spoken and unspoken, hopeful and melancholic -- that drive the narrative along. The Rainbow is at once a well-told story and a loving portrait of a family in transition" - Christopher Harding, The Telegraph

  • "A gentle watercolor wash of melancholia overshadows the book’s to-ings and fro-ings. (...) In significant ways, however, this fine novel is full of surprises. (...) The Rainbow adds a valuable layer to the portrait of the artist revealed by his work. It shows us a temperament in transition, as Kawabata confronted the war with a directness he would later abandon." - Brad Leithauser, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Rainbow centers around architect Mizuhara and the three daughters he has had by three different women. Momoko and her younger (half-)sister Asako have grown up together, but they do not know their younger (half-)sister Wakako.
       When the novel opens, Asako is traveling back from Kyōto to Tōkyō; she had hoped to see her younger sister there but did not. On the train she shares the compartment with a man taking care of a baby by himself -- an unusual sight -- and their paths will cross again later in the novel.
       The novel opens with Asako looking out the window in the train, where: "Asako saw a rainbow appear over the far shore of Lake Biwa". It is the first of several rainbow sightings, as Kawabata uses the sights and sounds of nature throughout this story (down also to the novel's concluding line: "From beyond the winter-stripped trees, she could make out the soft murmur of the river"), and rainbows, with their unpredictable appearance, ethereality, and colorful beauty are particularly fitting for this tale, which is so heavy on mood and atmosphere.
       It is not long after the war, with Momoko having lost the man she loved in the fighting, left only with a single, very personal souvenir (which now "no longer fit", a reminder also how she had changed in the meantime). She is a flighty woman -- "always going to extremes, always on edge, always finding something to devote herself to, to the exclusion of everything else" -- taking a young lover here too, but one who is ill-matched with her, and self-destructive.
       Mizuhara takes tentative steps to reconnect with Kikue, the woman he had the third child with, and his other daughters do meet Wakako, but what action there is -- except around Momoko -- tends to the slow and reflective. Both Asako and Momoko spend time in hospital, ill, and death -- including in the form of threatened and actual suicide -- hovers over much of the novel, from the wartime death of Momoko's lost love to her and Asako's dead mothers (the one having died just the year before).
       With evocative visual descriptions and settings -- including a seaside resort, and the Daitokuji temple and Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyōto -- Kawabata presents a vivid picture of the place and times. The characters repeatedly journey somewhere -- looking variously for escape and answers --, drawn especially to old, traditional Kyōto. Traditions still hold -- "speaking as the architect, I can't approve of coming in here dressed in Western clothing", Mizuhara says in one new tearoom -- but the characters are also adrift, without finding holds -- most obviously Momoko.
       It's a curious novel, but ultimately quite effective in how it is artfully drawn. Much of the dialogue is deeply intimate and revealing, while also being strangely distant, with characters not taking action (beyond running away) or showing much of any reaction when face-to-face, even when, for example, told:

     "What will you do when you find her ?"
     "I don't know. At worst, I might kill her, or maybe myself. I won't trouble anyone else."
       A great deal of passion and feeling does bubble beneath these surfaces, but the characters struggle to act on it; impressions run deep -- even much later, Asako remembers the rainbow she saw in the train -- but the characters struggle how to deal with their experiences and feelings.
       If much of The Rainbow feels understated, it does build up quite a bit -- pent up and never full released, not shattering the surface calm an aesthetic, but ultimately affecting.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 January 2024

- Return to top of the page -


The Rainbow: Reviews: Kawabata Yasunari: Other books by Kawabata Yasunari under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Japanese author Kawabata Yasunari (川端 康成) (1899-1972) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2024 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links