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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Monday, September 06, 2004

Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima, translated from the Japanese by Michael Gallagher. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. Reprint: Originally published New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972. ISBN: 0-679-72241-6

This is the first in the "Cycle of Four Novels, The Sea of Fertility" by Yukio Mishima, the pseudonym of Kimitake Hiraoka (1925-1970). As seems to be typical of Mishima's work (see The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea), the prose is crafted to read like poetry. Examples of beautifully realized imagery abound on every page.

The story, too, is like a fragile blossom, the petals ultimately suffering their inevitable fate, but just as lovely in their crushed and disintegrating condition as when they were fresh and alive with dew in the early morning sun. A young man, Kiyoaki, is sent to grow up with in an aristocratic family, apart from his own wealthy and even decadent household, where he inevitably falls in love with the lovely daughter.

Initially refusing to admit his infatuation, living a life of seeming indifference to all natural emotion, he only allows himself to realize the luxury of his true feelings when the girl in question is no longer available, having been engaged (sight unseen) to a member of the royal family. Now, of course, he has to have her, and engages in reckless and self-destructive behavior.

When she renounces both her lover and her fiancée, and retreats to a monastery, our effete young hero (or is he an anti-hero? We're never quite sure) vainly follows her in the middle of winter, deliberately exposing himself to the mortification of the environment, intentionally allowing his life to end in a fever-driven illness.

The book and its author seem torn between depicting this tale as a glorification of death for love, and the senselessness of the unnatural emotional life that leads to this end. Kiyoaki is depicted throughout as a frivolous, even facile young man who neglects his studies, refuses to recognize the natural order of things, and lives in a hopelessly romantic world of his own creation. And yet, his doomed quest for love is simultaneously depicted as something to be praised and valued.

Recommended for those who enjoy poetic writing or foreign literature, or anyone who is interested in a window into this aspect of Japanese thought, in which death for idealistic purposes is explored, even glorified.

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