The Master of Go: Book Review

I find this cover with the Go board and pieces interwoven with the title and cherry blossoms absolutely beautiful.

The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata with an introduction by Liza Gelby.

 Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker. Yellow Jersey Press, 2006.

The Master of Go is the semi-fictionalised account of a 6-month long Go match that occurred in 1938 between the old Master and the new challenger. The Master of Go is an interesting look into the world of Go at the time but it does drag at points – primarily because the match is repeatedly delayed due to the Master’s ill health. The author Yasunari Kawabata had been a reporter for the actual match writing serials for a magazine which were later collated and published as a book in 1954. Several schematics of the Go board are included throughout, however, the emphasis on the characters means that even those, like myself, with a barely rudimentary knowledge of Go can enjoy the book. The framing of the match as a battle between the old ways and the new order – the Master vs Mr Otaké, adds an extra element and weight to the event. The book is primarily focussed on the character of the Master, so the prominence of the fictionalised version of the author (Mr Uragami) is perhaps surprising. Overall, I would recommend The Master of Go because it is a short read that provides immersive insights into pride, protocol and prestige that surrounds the game of Go.  

4 Replies to “The Master of Go: Book Review

  1. Hi Zoe, Thank you for your book review! Kawabata is a Nobel Prize winner and one of leading Japanese writers but I had never heard of this title. How do you normally choose your books to read, just pick one available in a bookstore, by the cover and see what the story would be like (I would imagine deciding cover designs is also an important job in the publishing industry), read someone’s review before buying? I am glad you enjoyed the book and recommend it to others. I hope I can read it one day. I have also thought that reading about the past would be a good way to take us away from the pandemic anxiety (I tend to read online news and newspaper too often..)!

    1. Hi Natsue,
      The cover is beautiful! However, I actually read this book because of coronavirus. My local library was mainly shut but they were doing a service where you could say what type of books you wanted (but no specifics e.g. titles or authors) and they would choose some for you and out it in a bag for you to collect. It was rather like a lucky dip! So I said I wanted books about Japan or by Japanese authors, hence this book. In non-coronavirus times I would usually look up book lists of good books from different genres or blog lists of peoples favourites and then try to find them in the library.

  2. I’ve never read The Master of Go because I don’t understand Go and I was too lazy to make the effort to try… I might give it a go now (no pun intended). Snow Country by Kawabata is a great one too- you’ve probably read it already but it creates the atmosphere of a winter resort town and its people really well

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