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Yasunari Kawabata’s tense 1952 novel contains all the writer’s hallmarks: beautiful language, obsessive sexuality and contempt for the era.

Kikuji, the main character of “Thousand Cranes,” is attracted to the mistress of his deceased father, but transfers his desires to her daughter. This morbid, faintly incestuous tale is set against social rituals and the finely crafted utensils of the tea ceremony — objects that acquire special significance as the story unfurls. Thus, a tea bowl owned by the husband of Kikuji’s father’s second mistress, passes into the hands of another former lover, who selects it to serve the son, and in the process the bowl becomes, at least symbolically, a poisoned chalice.

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