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The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima


I found this vintage copy of a Japanese classic on the annual book sales. I wanted to read more by Japanese writers and I thought this could be a good start. The book starts with an introduction to Mishima who was born into a samurai family. This meant to live by a "code of complete control over mind and body, and loyalty to the Emperor - the same code that produced the austerity and self-sacrifice of Zen." He has written many short stories, and films have been based on his novels. "After Mishima conceived the idea of The Sea of Fertility tetralogy in 1964, he frequently said he would die when it was completed. On November 25th 1970, the day he completed The Decay of the Angel, the last novel of the cycle, Mishima committed seppuka (ritual suicide) at the age of 45."


Well, the story of he, himself, makes for wanting to read his novels and short stories. I was totally absorbed by the story in this novel. A young widow who lives with her 14 year old son, meets a sailor randomly. They enter into a love affair. The man tries to interact with the son, as he falls very much in love with the mother. The son is difficult to get a grip of. He discovered a whole in the wall between his bedroom and that of his mother, and overlooks her evening routines, and, what follows when she meets the sailor.


"Fusako teased the ashtray with her cigarette and then snuffed it out. The man still nested in every nook of her body. She was aware of her flesh beneath the clothes as continuous, thigh and breast in warm accordance: it was a new sensation. And she could still smell the sweat of the man. As if to test them, she curled her stockinged toes."


From here Mishima lets us follow all three characters. The love story is very well described and you wish the best for the lovers. However, there is a shadow looming over their relationship. The son's feeling for the new man are somewhat biased. He is also influenced by the group of friends from school that he is seeing. We learn rather early that the actions of this group is not normal. As the story continues, you, as a reader, feel that something is not right. The closer the end you come, the more the sense of doom hangs over you.


"In the grand dream Ryuji had treasured secretly for so long, he was a paragon of manliness and she the consummate woman; and from the opposite corners of the earth they came together in a chance encounter, and death wed them. Outdistancing tawdry farewells then, with streamers waving and strains of "Auld Lang Syne," and far from sailors' fickle loves, they were to descend to the bottom of the heart's great deep where no man has ever been ..."


"Ryuji asked for her fan and shooed the mosquitoes away. Lamps on distant masts twinkled like ocher stars; bulbs in the eaves of the warehouses directly below stretched in regular, bright rows."


The whole novel is so beautifully written that I could quote every line here, but I have to limit myself. The beauty with which Mishima describes ordinary things, harbours, boats, surroundings that not always look very nice in real life, brings wonderful prose to every page of the novel. A must read if you like Japanese literature, and I am curious to read something else by him. Lastly, a quote from the boys, the chief being the boy that leads the gang.


"The chief scrutinised their faces and saw tension easing out of their cheeks, fear dwindling away. Awakening for the first time to society's sweet cordiality, the boys fel secure in the knowledge that their enemies were actually their protectors."



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4 Comments


It sounds like a beautiful book. This is a book I'd like to read.

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You will love it, I am sure, such a wonderful, and not so long book. Beautiful story with a dark undertone. I felt really sad nearing the end of the story.

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Guest
Mar 18

"The beauty with which Mishima describes ordinary things, harbours, boats, surroundings that not always look very nice in real life, brings wonderful prose to every page of the novel." Yep, that's Mishima all right. A complete nutcase probably , but what an amazing writing style! I haven't read this one yet. Emma @ Words And Peace

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At least you are acquainted with. I had never heard of him, when I found this book on the annual book sale. For sure will read more by him, for I have seldom read such beautiful prose. You might be right about nutcase considering how he ended his life. Sad, I think. And such a gifted author.

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