The Sound of Waves – Yukio Mishima

First published in 1954, translated from Japanese

The Sound of Waves is the first of Yukio Mishima’s book to be translated into English, and I can see why. For the fans expecting the darker, more brooding version of latter Mishima might be disappointed. This is Mishima when he was not yet cynical, the world was still a nice and simple place, and love triumphed. For Western audience, this seems a perfect entry into his works too. It’s short with just 183 pages, the story is simple, the plot is safe, the setting is an exotic remote island of Japan. What’s not to like?

The book runs on the main plot of two teenagers getting in love with each other, but lo and behold, social class barrier! Unsupportive parents! Tale as old as time you might say. But the real appeal I think is in the description of the island and the life of its inhabitants. Set somewhere in the 50s, or late 40s at the earliest, the island is late compared to the mainland of Japan in terms of trend and technology, and pretty much everything else. Life is much simpler and bare on the island. I loved it.

I may sound slightly cynical about the love story, but I actually loved it too. I found the depiction of the teenagers love believable and quite accurate – the awkwardness, the drama, the vague respect of existing beliefs and societal systems, the lack of control. This book is published in 1954 when Mishima was 29. I’m curious about when he wrote this, because it seems written by someone who had not left teenage-hood for very long. Someone in my Japanese Lit reading group mentioned that Mishima had a sickly and controlled childhood, so it’s possible he was still quite young, even at the age of 29.

I’d highly recommend this especially for someone looking for an entry into Japanese literature, though there’s lots to like for veterans too. My third entry for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 11.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

I’ve only read The Sea of Fertility tetralogy (the first three), and now this. I haven’t read Mishima’s earlier works, so I’d be interested to see how they compare. Taking his most famous books (translated to English), the list by the order of publication is:
Confessions of a Mask
Forbidden Colors
The Sound of Waves *
The Temple of Golden Pavillion
After the Banquet
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea
The Sea of Fertility tetralogy *

(I’ve only read those marked with stars)

Bearing in mind the order of publication may not reflect the time of writing, especially at the beginning of an author’s career, I do wonder if you’re to read them in order, whether you’d recognise an obvious “flip” when he goes darker and more cynical. With this in mind I’d be interested to read Confessions of a Mask or The Temple of Golden Pavillion for my next Mishima (when I get to them, and after finishing the tetralogy).

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