“…living is merely the chaos of existence…”
Written against the backdrop of post World-War 2 Japan, Yukio Mishima’s classic novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a disturbing yet compelling read. The story revolves around three main characters – Ryuji Tsukazaki who is a sailor, Fusako Kuroda who is a businesswoman and her son Noboru, a young adolescent boy.
The story starts with Noburu being locked up by her mother, a routine that happenes every night to prevent him from sneaking out to meet his ‘gang’. Known as number three, Noburu is one of the six boys who formed a group and together questions the status quo while discussing nihilism. They have a ‘chief’ who acts as a judge, a spoiled young brat who will later instigate the group to restore justice.
Noburu is like any other teenager – he is sexually curious, wants to be independent and has mood swings. He is also super fascinated by ships and it was his fascination that led him and his mother to visit the Yokohama harbour where they meet Ryuji.
At first, Noburu looks up to Ryuji whom he considers the perfect embodiment of who he wants to become in the future. He considers him to be pure, someone with glory, someone with pride; but as he gets to know him better, he detests him for not being masculine enough and all hells break loose when he falls for his mother. That’s when the ‘gang’ decides that he is the sailor who fell from grace with the sea.
Fusako is a widow who found love in Ryuji. Their romance is comparatively modern for the late 1940s Japan. I am particularly disappointed by her character development in the story. She is repeatedly objectified and has no depth as compared to the sailor or the complexity that Noburu brings. When her friend Yoriko suggests a pre-marital investigation by a private agency, her reaction to that was out of her character and seemed forced into the story.
The writing style of this short novel is poetically beautiful and reminded me of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. This is my first encounter with Mishima and it is a tad too dark to my liking. The detailed imagery of the kitten (you’ll know when you read it) and the twisted minds of Noburu and his gang is very nihilistic.
I don’t know if I’ll recommend this book? If you are curious about Mishima’s writing or his life, this book can serve as a good starting point. Much of his life and his ideologies is bound up in his book and it requires you to study about him and his life to fully comprehend this book.
Also read: How I Turned Into A Reader
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