Ask a Book Question: The 42nd in a Series (Garcia Marquez and Kawabata)

January 21, 2006 | 4 books mentioned 1 2 min read

Ashok writes in with this question about a pair of “magical realists:”

I heard that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores can be read as a continuation of a Yasunari Kawabata novel. Can you tell me which is that novel?

Kawabata was the first Japanese Nobel Laureate in literature (1968), and while not considered a “magical realist” like Garcia Marquez, Kawabata was known for the surreal quality of his writing. A brief bio is available here. For several critics, Garcia Marquez’s latest novel echoes Kawabata’s 1961 book House of the Sleeping Beauties, though nobody that I saw described Garcia Marquez’s book as a “continuation” of Kawabata’s. The pre-pub review in Library Journal describes a “situational resemblance” between the two books, while a review in the Washington Times calls Whores “something less” than Beauties. In a chat with Michael Dirda of the Washington Post (scroll way down), an anonymous reader even went so far as to suggest that Garcia Marquez plagiarized Kawabata, an idea that Dirda dismisses:

Anonymous: I have read all the praise for Garca Marquez’s “Memoires of my sad whores” in the Books Section of the Post, in particular the review by Marie Arana. Nowhere I have seen the reference to Yasunari Kawabata’s “The House of the Sleeping Beauties.” Garca Marquez himself said that that would be a novel he would like to have written.

Question: Being the two stories so close to each other, Kawabata’s obviously preceding Garca Marquez’s, when a homage turns into plagiarism? Thanks

Michael Dirda: Writers always borrow or steal from each other. G-M acknowledges Kawabata’s work, just as Zadie Smith in On Beauty acknowledges E.M. Forster’s Howards End. But the books are still their own. I suspect that Kawabata’s book will outlast G-M’s.

So, clearly there is some relationship between the two books, and hopefully some Garcia Marquez fans have been introduced to Kawabata as a result.

created and edits The Millions. He is co-editor of the collection of essays The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, called "funny, poignant, relentlessly thought-provoking" by The Atlantic. He and his family live in New Jersey. If you'd like to correspond, please don't hesitate to email.

One comment:

  1. Garcia Marquez quotes the first line of Kawabata's novel in the epigraph to his own novel. He also described it as a rewriting of Kawabata's novel (rather than an extension or sequel). This was at a press conference in Washington, D.C. during the time he was in the process of writing Memorias; Garcia Marquez commented that Kawabata’s House of Sleeping Beauties “Es el único libro que he leído que me ha dado envidia” ("It's the only book I've read that has made me envious").

    You can see some of this in El País Digital in “The Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian World,” Dominita Dumitrescu (p. 192); in Hispania Vol. 81, No. 1 (Mar 1998) pp. 189-199.

    Hope this helps.
    Jordan Smith – [email protected]

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