Novel: The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

Author: Yukio Mishima, 1963
Genre: Psychological Drama, Philosophical Narrative
Format: Ebook, 189 pages

I was first exposed to Mishima at the age of fifteen – the most impressionable and volatile time, when young mind, ignorant of real world issues, is eager for tragic emotions. A friend of mine lent me her copy of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion without knowing what the book was really about, except that the bookstore clerk really recommended it for lovers of international literature. Whoever that clerk is, God bless him! I devoured it in two days and it left me incredibly depressed for at least two weeks. When I say depressed, I do not mean it in a bad way. To put it in other words I was colossally moved and shocked, as if a great earthquake shook my very core believes and pulled tight on every heartstring that was not yet broken. Mishima had swept me and rocked me, and thrown me out on a rocky shore, where all I could see were the broken fragments of his characters that didn’t survive the storm. I felt violent emotions that not many books since then were able to stir. I was in love, as anyone can be in love with an exquisite monster. I felt infinite sadness and profound revelation.

Sailor is yet another one of Mishima’s great depictions of human downfall. Here he carefully dissects the rotten and the vile to discover the roots of evil in human heart. I love it that Mishima takes a group of young boys as his test subjects, because it just makes the most sense. The boys are of course untouched by the harshness of reality due to their age, but are already detaching themselves from the rest of society and behaving destructively towards its norms and regulations. How did that evil form in the boys’ heads unless it has been planted there even before their birth by nature. It is all very Lord of the Flies. We see the obvious Chief (the only name Mishima gives him), who has a distinct influence over others. He is a disturbed child with some prominent psychological issues, hailing from a respectable family, but being left to himself most of the time. He manipulates volatile minds of other boys into following his wicked schemes and at one point even sadistically killing a living being. I have a hard time figuring out where Mishima’s own psyche lies within the band of little savages. Considering the author’s life story, I can conclude that he shares many sentiments with the boys. He sees Japan abandoning its true identity and following in the footsteps of the Western world, turning into the society that is superficial, hypocritical and deceptive. Does Mishima identify himself with Noboru – a boy making tragic mistakes out of childish naivety, – or does he assume the role of the diabolical psychopath Chief? Does Mishima think of himself as strayed victim or an accomplished killer?

I have the greatest sympathy for the two lovers in the book – Ryuji and Fusako. While still falling into a romantic affair that ultimately leads to prospects of happy marriage, their love could be so much more. Ryuji is sailor who has always dreamt of seafaring adventures and illusory glory beyond the horizon. However, as years pass his pragmatism begins nagging in the back of his head about realistic expectations from life. When he meets grounded Fusako, he sees it as opportunity to finally live life the way it is expected, and so he withdraws from the sea and finally quits sailing. At the beginning of their relationship Ryuji is eager to tell her of his hopes and dreams of glory, but is afraid a woman like her would never understand. Instead he talks of the practical things. At the same time Fusako is hoping to hear about his love of the sea, but is left disappointed. If only they both opened up a little! It makes me think how many couples actually do the same thing – just assume the other wouldn’t be interested in the real them and miss out on a beautiful connection.

Now I must mention the ending. Oh that cruel ending! The book stops right before the most horrendous act is about to happen. Your heart beats in sync with the increasing tension of the narrative, you mind’s eye follows in footsteps of Ryuji as he walks among the boys to the abandoned military base, a scream forms inside as you’re just about to warn the sailor of the danger he puts himself in…. BAM the book is over, the curtain falls, the light go off. The scream gets stuck in your throat, and for a long time after the story is over the sound stays with you and follows wherever you go. For days your mind tries to race to a satisfactory conclusion, eager to fill the void left by the author. You turn to hope that Ryuji is saved by a casual observer and goes back to the sea where he belongs; you plunge in the worst case scenario and see Fusako’s world collapsing as she learns of Ryuji’s fate and her son’s horrid deed. Oh Yukio, why do you make me suffer so?! At the same time I do not see how the ending might have been any more perfect, any more poetic, any more terrifying. Again, Mishima deserved a standing ovation.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for following my blog. Better still to find another Mishima fan. I love Mishima’s books. Although in Europe we were thought not to express our emotions, but I still understand what you mean by “I felt violent emotions that not many books since then were able to stir. I was in love, as anyone can be in love with an exquisite monster. I felt infinite sadness and profound revelation.” I am repulsed by this book to be honest, therefore I have given away once I read it but I wouldn’t say the same for his other books. The Golden Temple of Pavilion, the Banquet and the Confessions of a mask are all heartbreaking and moving read.

    Beautiful review.

  2. Thank you for stopping by! Your blog really inspires me, and I am glad to follow somebody who loves Murakami and Mishima the way I do. I have to say that Mishima has managed to move me every single time I read his works, so I hope to get to every one of his novels and short stories in the future. Please feel free to leave your feedback on any post that interests you.

  3. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the scene with a kitten in The Sailor really reminded me of the similar scene in Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. I practically wept both times.

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