The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project
Spring Snow (豐饒の海) by Yukio Mishima (1925 to 1970-Japan) is the initial work in The Sea of Fertility tetrology, the crowning glory of an incredibility productive life. The other works in the series are Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel. One of the dominant themes of this work (and his The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea which I read last year) is the depiction of the corrupting influence of western culture on Japan in the early part of the 20th century.
Most of the plot action of Spring Snow is from 1912 to 1914. The main story line concerns the romance between the son of a newly rich family and the daughter of an aristocratic that is in economic decline that makes it difficult for them to observe the proper formalities. Shigekuni Honda, a friend of the male character, is the principal witness to the events. He will play a role in all of the novels. Two royal princesses from Thailand (Siam at the time) arrive to study in Japan and stay with the family of Kiyoaki (the male lead). Watching them learn about Japanese culture is fascinating. The plot of Spring Snow is fairly complicated though not impossibly so.
Spring Snow is about loss. It is about loss of trust in others, in your country and in your faith. Mishima offers us the opportunity to go deep into classical Japanese culture. I really enjoyed the lectures on Buddhism that occur as part of the plot. One can feel, and his life shows it, the very profound connection of Mishima to Japanese culture and traditions from the years before western culture became dominant. I felt a very high intelligence and cultivation behind this work.
Mishima lead a life right out of his own works. There seems to be enough evidence to classify him as a GLBT writer (you might look at my post on "The Tragic Tale of the Love of Two Enemies" a story from 17th century Japan to see how this relates to Samurai culture).
I think and hope that Yukio Mishima will come to be regarded as high canon status writer. This will happen only if teachers of literature worldwide themselves become well read in the Japanese novel. The Japanese novel is one of the literary glories of the 20th century. I do not believe in "balancing the canon" based on the backgrounds of the authors included but a canon list without at least five Japanese authors on it needs to be rethought.
How do you feel about "Balancing the canon"?
It's an interesting book, isn't it? I would guess I only picked up hints of the Buddhist ideas when I read it. I mean, some of the hints are pretty darn strong! But I didn't always know what to make of them, how to tie them into the fiction.
I never followed up with the later books. I assume you plan to. I'm curious to hear how you think they fit together.
Amateur Reader-by accident I have already read and posted on book two of the work-yes I hope work the other two parts of The Sea of Fertility into my reading the first quarter of 2011
I didn't get on very well with Mishima's The Temple of the Golden Pavilion but I do want to try Spring Snow and perhaps the rest of the tetralogy someday.
The book sat on my shelf for 9 weeks and I couldn't find the mood to read it. The book is returned to the library now but I'm glad you read it and endorsed it as good reading experience. I'll try again this year!
It's a great review Mel.
You know I have the last book of the tetralogy and still trying to find the 1st, 2nd and 3rd ones before reading the last one.
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