The Temple of Dawn – Yukio Mishima

First published in Japan in 1970, The Temple of Dawn is book #3 in the Sea of Fertility tetralogy.

The Temple of Dawn is book #3 in The Sea of Fertility tetralogy. My review for book #1 Spring Snow here and book #2 Runaway Horses here. If you have not read the first two, warning there will be possible spoilers.

So my relationship with Mishima’s epic has been long and slow going, as I read Spring Snow in 2015, and Runaway Horses in 2016. With The Temple of Dawn in 2017, I plan to read the last book The Decay of the Angel in 2018. That’s one book per year if you noticed, as I’m not the type of reader that can read more than one book consecutively by the same author. The good thing is that way you give adequate time for each book, the bad thing is you may forget details from previous books.

I read this with my Goodreads Japanese Literature group (discussion board here), and it seems to cause very conflicting reactions – unlike the first two books. My own take was just lukewarm – there are bits I liked and bits I didn’t like. But my overall impression is that it’s definitely the weakest book of the tetralogy so far. Even Mishima couldn’t avoid the “saggy middle” that seems to often happen to a book and especially a series of books. It felt like a filler, something in between an exciting beginning (book 1), peak (book 2), and the (possibly exciting) ending (book 4). Makes me wonder, do we need a middle at all? Why don’t we just cut the middle of everything?

So in The Temple of Dawn, the readers are brought to Thailand and India at the early chapters – which I actually quite enjoyed, before going back to Japan. Mishima used the settings to explore the roots and other branches of Buddhism, including Hinduism. He went into the history and philosophy of those religions, which I could see the reasons of, considering the series is all about transmigration. But it doesn’t bring much into the narrative. It’s meandering and self-indulgent, and I’m not sure how much I remember of it at the end.

Unlike the previous two books that concentrate on Kiyoaki and Kiyoaki reincarnate, The Temple of Dawn dwells on Honda, who is frankly a boring character compared to any form of Kiyoaki. This time Honda believes that he has encountered his friend in the form of a Thai princess, who is somewhat still related to the two Thai princes appeared in Spring Snow.

The book is divided into two parts, separated by untold years of World War II. I initially thought WWII would take central stage in book 3 or 4, but apparently it was just swept under the rug. The princess is 7 years old in part 1, Honda 46 years old, and the year is 1941. Part 2 is set 11 years later in 1952, Honda is 57 years old, Ying Chan the princess is 18 years old.

So Kiyoaki is now in the form of female – a passive one annoyingly, and is the object of obsession of Honda. Is he symbolically attracted to “life” and the embodiment of the mysterious transmigration? Or is there a homosexual undertone there? (Mishima is largely accepted as homo or bi-sexual – though his wife would disagree.) In any way I failed to grasp the purpose of Honda’s lust in the overall narrative. He came across as an old creep. The age and gender of Kiyoaki’s form this time really hinder her to blossom into her own character like Isao, who was at the peak of his life. As Kiyo reincarnate gets younger and younger, I wonder how his last form will contribute to the narrative. Those who have read all books in the series hinted that the last book makes the whole journey worthwhile. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Mee’s rating: 3/5

My first book for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge – now in its 11th year!

My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

First published in Italy in 2011. Published in English by Europa Editions in 2012. Translated by Ann Goldstein. I received my paperback copy from Europa Editions. Elena Ferrante is pseudonym and her real identity is kept secret. 

I had quite a high expectation going into this book, because of the popularity. And I can’t say it met my expectation.

My Brilliant Friend is set in 1950s Italy and features two female friends as the main characters. The prologue was intriguing. The “brilliant friend” is missing – or to be exact “taking off” without a trace. She’s mentioned as a computer programmer – which is what I do – so I thought this started great! I have never read a book with a female computer programmer as the main character.

But after the prologue – which is the most exciting bit about the book unfortunately – the readers are brought to the very beginning of the two friends relationship. Way way back to childhood, which takes about a quarter, then another three quarter of the book about their adolescence. This might be a matter of personal preference, but in general I’m very impatient reading about childhood and teenage-hood. I love classic children stories with multiple layers that serve adult readers too – if not more, but I avoid YA like a plague. I don’t have patience for it. If you’ve read Jane Eyre, the beginning part that tells Jane’s childhood to teenage-hood was the most boring part for me too. I wish it was cut altogether. And My Brilliant Friend is exactly that part – the part which I think should be cut if talking about Jane Eyre!

Hard to believe I’d say this about a book, but I also found the narration way too linear. I wonder if I’d been reading too many convoluted books? How could I complain that a narration is way too linear? But it is! It literally goes from one small event to another in chronological order. There’s no flash forward or flash back (apart from the prologue), it’s point a to b to c to d to e – a long tedious Beverly Hills 90210 style, with a web of not very distinguished characters (friends, brothers, sisters) hooking up with each other. The similar names really didn’t help. There are Rino, Nino, and Gino. Really? Even the two main characters are called Lila – sometimes Lina, and Lenu – or Elena. There’s a big list of character names at the beginning of the book, which I referred to a lot at first, but gave up after a while, because I stopped caring. I was bored. Halfway through I switched to audio book and continued on audio. I doubt I’d finish it without the audio book.

So yeah, I can’t say I liked this book very much. I suspect the next books are probably better and where all the juicy bits are, but at the moment it seems very unlikely for me to continue to the next ones in the series. I may try Ferrante’s other shorter books, but I don’t have a definite plan now. I read they’re going to make TV series based on this, I may just watch that.

Underwhelmed.

Mee’s rating: 3/5

My Brilliant Friend on audible
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