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Re: Yukio Mishima - Spring Snow Camilla Send a noteboard - 01/01/2011 10:18:03 PM
Spring Snow is the first of four books in the Sea of Fertility series by Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Mishima is considered one of the greatest modern Japanese authors, and notable not only for his writing but also for his rather turbulent personal life, which ended in 1970 when he committed seppuku, the traditional Japanese ritual suicide - on the same day he had given his publisher the manuscript of the final Sea of Fertility book.

I did not know this. Was it because he considered the book a failure?

Mishima does a great job at writing credible characters, with the sort of seeming contradictions and oddities that one might expect in a society like that of Japan in this period, fifty years after the Meiji Restoration and just a few years after Japan showed the West how well it had learned its lessons by trouncing Russia in the Russo-Japanese war. The mix of modern Western ideas and traditional Japanese ones is present just about everywhere in the novel, often with interesting and unexpected results (to me, at least, but then I don't know very much about Japan). The romantic plot of the book is simple enough, well-written as it is; it's this background that makes the book particularly noteworthy. I was reminded at times of Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, which has similar contrasts between a traditional feudal society and the new ideas from the West, though obviously for Turgenev's Russian characters the gap is less big.

Is the Western presence as explicit as it is in Turgenev?

One of the few points of criticism I could make - though this could have to do either with the translation, or simply with Japanese culture being different from the Western one - is the way Mishima occasionally inserts short, unsubtle explanations or summaries of his characters' emotions, in sharp contrast with his normal writing. An example (apologies for the crude translation back into English):

"In a single circle of yellowish light, the lamp above their heads caught the core symbols of the two diametrically opposite worlds to which the two boys had surrendered themselves. One of them was seriously ill for the sake of love. The other prepared for the heavy demands made by reality."

A violation of the "show, don't tell" rule which is made all the stranger by the masterful way in which Mishima does in fact "show, not tell" most of the time. Other than that, while it is not a real point of criticism, I feel I owe it to the readers of this review to warn them that Kiyoaki's character really is very annoying at times in the first half of the book. Those who find it difficult to read books with antipathetic or whiny protagonists may find that a rather big obstacle, even if he fortunately does grow up later on.


On the whole, Spring Snow is a superb description of early twentieth-century Japan and a moving love story, once Kiyoaki grows up a bit. I highly recommend it, and I dare say it's a must-read for those interested in Japan. I will definitely read the remaining three books in the series, about Honda's later life and Japanese society up to 1970, though I understand that in later books the philosophical and religious themes, particularly that of reincarnation, have a stronger presence and perhaps overshadow the plot a bit. Then again, since Honda is a rather more mature and less emotional personality than Kiyoaki, the later books presumably don't have quite as many scenes in which one wants to slap some sense into the protagonist.

I must say I am tempted. But I do have an aversion to the whiny type of character. Knowing it gets better helps, of course....
structured procrastinator
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Yukio Mishima - Spring Snow - 01/01/2011 09:33:55 PM 7567 Views
Re: Yukio Mishima - Spring Snow - 01/01/2011 10:18:03 PM 2087 Views
Re: Yukio Mishima - Spring Snow - 01/01/2011 10:32:44 PM 1748 Views
Re: Yukio Mishima - Spring Snow - 02/01/2011 11:52:30 PM 1492 Views
That really does sound interesting. *NM* - 02/01/2011 11:54:42 PM 761 Views
As is the case with many writer's and artists. . . - 03/01/2011 12:00:32 AM 1356 Views
Re: That really does sound interesting. - 03/01/2011 05:54:56 PM 1409 Views
Yeah, I didn't care for it much, but is interesting. *NM* - 04/01/2011 05:34:53 AM 709 Views
Re: Yukio Mishima - Spring Snow - 03/01/2011 06:46:59 PM 1523 Views
Nice clarification. - 04/01/2011 05:37:03 AM 1344 Views
I really liked this book and mentioned it some time ago. - 02/01/2011 11:30:14 PM 1582 Views
Re: Yukio Mishima - Spring Snow - 03/01/2011 07:29:06 PM 1516 Views
Interesting. I suppose that makes sense, in a way. - 03/01/2011 07:51:41 PM 1498 Views

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