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Posts Tagged ‘Yukio Mishima’

I read Yukio Mishima’s ‘Thirst For Love‘ sometime back. I thought I should read my next Mishima now.

In ‘The Sound of Waves‘, there is a young man called Shinji who works in a fishing boat. He is from a poor family, he has a simple heart, and he works hard. His father died during the war. Shinji lives with his mother, who works as a diver during the diving season, and his younger brother, who is in school. Things are going nicely for Shinji, when one day he meets a beautiful girl who is helping out on another fishing boat. He discovers that she is the daughter of a rich man. He can’t stop thinking about her. Something like this has never happened to Shinji before. Soon, while he is on an errand helping out his mother, he meets this girl again, and this time they are alone. Sparks fly between them and one thing leads to another – well, you have to read the book to find out more.

In ‘The Sound of Waves‘, Yukio Mishima takes the classic love story – boy meets girl and they fall in love, girl’s father hates boy, girl gets a rich suitor etc. – puts it in a fishing village in Japan and lets the events unfold and gives us a fascinating front-seat view. It is as if one day Mishima-San got up on the right side of his bed and told himself –

Okay, I have written about a monk who burns down a temple. I have written about the woman who kills the man she loves. What about a simple story with a ray of sunshine? What about a story in which two young people meet and fall in love? Why not write that? St.Francis of Assisi said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light from a single candle.” Why not light that candle here and see whether it dispels some of the darkness?

And then Mishima-San went and locked himself inside his room and wrote this book in one breath and completed it in the wee hours of the morning, before he could change his mind. And that is how we got ‘The Sound of Waves‘. Atleast that is the story I tell myself. That is the story I want to believe.

The Sound of Waves‘ is a beautiful celebration of young love. It is so famous that it has been made into many movies. I have seen atleast one of those movies. It is very different from the regular dark, intense fare we expect from Mishima. I loved it.

Have you read ‘The Sound of Waves‘? What do you think about it?

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After reading a couple of books by Yasunari Kawabata, I thought I’ll read a book by Yukio Mishima. I picked ‘Thirst for Love‘.

First a few words on Yukio Mishima. Mishima was one of the great Japanese writers of the twentieth century. He was also one of the most handsome. He wrote many books, including novels and plays. His most famous books are probably ‘The Temple of the Golden Pavilion‘ and ‘The Sea of Fertility‘ tetralogy, which is regarded as his magnum opus. He was expected to win the Nobel Prize for literature during his lifetime, but he didn’t. He died at the young age of forty-five, by committing Sepukku (or Harakiri as it is popularly known).

Now about the book.

Etsuko is a young woman and the main character in the story. When she loses her husband, her father-in-law Yakichi invites her to come and live in his farm with his other two grown-up children. Yakichi’s son and daughter live with him in different parts of the house and help out in the farm. They are both married and have children. Yakichi used to work in a shipping company and when he retired he was the President of the company. After retiring, he decides to move to the countryside and buy a farm and manage it. His wife and children oppose that move, but then they move with him and now help him out in the farm. Yakichi’s wife passes away after a few years. When Etsuko moves into her father-in-law’s house, she is given a special status by him, which annoys his two children. But they still try to be friendly with her. After a while, Yakichi starts making advances on Etsuko. While these things are going on, Etsuko is attracted towards Saburo, who is a servant and gardener who is working there. To complicate things further, the cook and maid Miyo loves Saburo. How these feelings of different characters evolve and how the complex events of the story unfold is told in the rest of the book.

This is my first proper Yukio Mishima book. Though I have read parts of ‘The Temple of the Golden Pavilion‘, I couldn’t finish reading it then. So I didn’t know what to expect. Though I was expecting that the story would be a bit dark, based on past experience. It is. We experience the story most of the time through Etsuko’s eyes and so we empathize with her. Though sometimes the point of view changes, we continue to be on ‘Team Etsuko’. But as the complex story evolves and one thing leads to another, at some point we are no longer sure what to think. The characters in the story, including our favourite Etsuko, are complex, imperfect, flawed, real. When we read about Etsuko’s feelings towards Saburo and Saburo’s simple-minded ignorance and response to that – it is so beautifully expressed by Mishima. Yakichi’s eldest son Kensuke and Kensuke’s wife Chieko come through initially as two characters who gossip and plot behind other people’s backs, but as we continue reading our heart warms up to them. One of my favourite conversations in the story happens between them. It goes like this.

Chieko : “You don’t have it quite straight. I meant you were a plain, ordinary man of the house.”

Kensuke : “Ordinary? Wonderful! The highest point at which human life and art meet is in the ordinary. To look down on the ordinary is to despise what you can’t have. Show me a man who fears being ordinary, and I’ll show you a man who is not yet a man. The earliest days of the haiku, before Basho, before Shiki, were filled with the vigor of an age in which the spirit of the ordinary had not died.”

Chieko : “Yes, and your haiku show the ordinary at its highest point of development.”

The other characters in the story are also well fleshed out including Yakichi, Saburo and Miyo. A complex story like this will have a complex ending. Yukio Mishima ensures that it does. I won’t tell you what it is. You have to read the book to find out.

I enjoyed reading ‘Thirst for Love‘. I am glad I finally read my first Mishima book. I can’t wait to read more. I am sharing below some of my favourite passages from the book. Mishima’s prose is very beautiful and very different from Kawabata’s. Read it for yourself and tell me whether you find it different.

“She was not religious, yet like devoutly religious women, Etsuko found in the emptiness of her hopes the purest of meanings…Not thinking about things was the basis of Etsuko’s contentment. It was her reason for being.”

“A feeling of liberation should contain a bracing feeling of negation, in which liberation itself is not negated. In the moment a captive lion steps out of his cage, he possesses a wider world than the lion who has known only the wilds. While he was in captivity, there were only two worlds to him – the world of the cage, and the world outside the cage. Now he is free. He roars. He attacks people. He eats them. Yet he is not satisfied, for there is no third world that is neither the world of the cage nor the world outside the cage.”

“In those three short days of Saburo’s absence, the feeling that developed with his absence – whatever the feeling – was to me entirely new. As a gardener who, after long care and toil, holds in his hand a marvelous peach, hefts the weight of it, and feels the joy of it, so I felt the weight of his absence in my hand and reveled in it. It would not be true to say that those three days were lonely. To me his absence was a plump, fresh weight. That was joy! Everywhere in the house I perceived his absence – in the yard, in the workroom, in the kitchen, in his bedroom.”

Have you read Yukio Mishima’sThirst for Love‘? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Mishima book?

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