Book of da Week: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea
It’s Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea.

With a title like The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea you’re not going to get a bad book now, are you? Indeed. Well, this is a novella, but the same applies. Listen now – with his sharp features and muscly physique, Japanese author Yukio Mishima lent himself to modelling and a touch of movie acting. If you take a look on Google for the former, you’ll find many action shots of the shirtless Mishima posing and wielding a samurai sword.

A highly political figure, he was involved in a notorious and failed coup d’état in 1970 which led to him committing seppuku (a ritual Japanese suicide) at the age of only 45. As you may be able to guess, this sort of behaviour indicates Mishima was an intense man who lived by his word. This is reflected in his writing, which is why we’ve covered arguably his most famous work today.

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea

First published in 1963 (it quickly found an English translation, the first copies turned up in 1965 in the West) it’s a psychological and philosophical thriller about the nihilistic antics of a youth called Nobura Kuroda. Living in post-war Japan, he’s part of a group of young hoodlums who essentially reject modern concepts of morality in favour of brutal behaviour.

In his group, Kuroda is known as Number Three. They’ve made their minds up society is illusory and hypocritical and, heck, they’re pretty intent on causing mischief as a result. Consequently, when one of the group’s mothers has an affair with a sailor they endure conflicting emotions about the man. At once admiring his resolve and subversive nature, they debate his actions before making a puerile decision about the man’s fate.

In amongst this there’s a whirlwind of themes about love, modernity, human nature, technology, honour, and the roles of gender in a rapidly changing society. It is, above all else, an allegory for the societal upheaval following Japan’s defeat in World War II, which makes the novella an interesting time capsule on how the nation dealt with the immediate aftermath of the war.

Let us conclude, mister!

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea is have a novella which is short, sharp, and as intense as Yukio Mishima himself appears to have been. The themes of youthful alienation are pretty reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye, whilst the tone is similar to A Personal Matter. The latter is Kenzaburo Oe’s masterpiece, published only a year after Mishima’s effort and marking a brilliant new era for Japanese literature.

The early ’60s appears to have marked a turning point in Japanese history, where traditional values began to be overtaken by an emerging, complex new world. This caused some conflict in society, which we’ll take a look at on another occasion with the writings of Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Join us then, do!

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