Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima


A powerful, beautiful, brutal book. As if reading it for the first time, I was stunned by it. (I went through, or thought I went through, an intense Mishima obsession as an undergraduate back during the Grover Cleveland administration, but can't be sure of anything from that period, it seems.) The point of view shifts throughout the book between the three main characters, the sailor Ryuji, the widow Fusako and her 13 year old son Noboru, but the reins are held by a cool and fatalistic omniscient narrator. The sailor and the widow fall in love during the sailor's leave, one summer, and the son watches their lovemaking from inside his dresser cabiner in his room, through a crevice in a wallboard.

Mishimi's language is at once strikingly metaphorical and disturbingly concrete. The sailor's memories of the sea, transmiited to Noboru, take on a deadly chant-like rhythm, as the sailor realizes he will put the sea behind him and marry the widow, giving up the highs and lows of the dramatic, and sometimes monotonous, ocean, for the peace and living-death of a comfortable marriage. (He was dealing here with no ocean squall but the gentle breeze that blows ceaselessly over the land.)

For the boy, this is ultimately a betrayal of the canon of his gang of friends, led by the psychotic "Chief," who instructs the rest of the gang in a grisly system of nihilism and existenialism that renounces almost everything in the world as worthless. "Except for the ocean, and a couple other things," the chief says at one point. "Ships," Noboru adds hopefully. "Maybe ships," the chief replies. The widow moves between the two men, tending to her clothing store, hoping to replace her dead husband and thus further "care" for her son, overjoyed to end her five year loneliness as a widow.

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