Yukio Mishima wrote fiction like nobody else. Published in 1965, his novel “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” is a prime example, a rapturous burst of language both mythical and keenly detailed, translated beautifully by American writer and director John Nathan.
In a Yokohama suburb during the postwar years, the fatherless 13-year-old Noboru joins a gang of sociopaths from good families. They scorn the uselessness of mankind — especially fathers, “the vilest things on earth” — and then kill and dissect a cat to practice their “absolute dispassion.”
One summer night, Noboru’s Westernized mother, Fusako, hooks up with the sailor Ryuji, whose independence the boy admires. But when he trades seafarer glory for domesticity by marrying Fusako, the gang sets out to punish what they see as his fall from grace.
Mishima knew how much men have to prove, and this short and haunting tale of masculinity shows the male desire for grandeur, for an ecstasy of life, which Ryuji hopes can be reached in death.
Mishima taps into primal male fears, and relates Japan’s loss of status under the U.S. Occupation to the emasculating force of marriage and the angry impotence of youth.
This is a piece of art without calming shade, to be read in the summer heat, ideally with a view of an endless sea.
Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.
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