Evan's Reviews > The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
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's review
Jun 03, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: asia, arr-matey-seagoing-fare, 2010-reads, my-faves, favorites, japonais, sexuality, evans-alternative-100
Read on January 27, 2010


"If I were an amoeba, he thought, with an infinitesimal body, I could defeat ugliness. A man isn't tiny or giant enough to defeat anything."

Ryuji, the "emasculated" sailor in Mishima's great novel, thinks such thoughts on long sea voyages, standing watch on deck; his only friends being the stars. His vague notions of glory -- that something great awaits him at the next port -- allow him to avoid his sense of powerlessness and the reality of his aimlessness. His idea of romantic completion is an unconsumated coupling that is destroyed utterly in instant oblivion -- a kiss and the lovers' lives brought to an end in a tidal wave, for instance. To him, this is the idea of a perfect marriage. His lifestyle of staying on the move and not becoming attached ends soon after he meets a well-to-do widow, Fusako, in the port of Yokohama.

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea shifts its narrative foci deceptively. As it starts it, we think it might be a novel about burgeoning adolescent sexual discovery, as Fusako's 13-year-old son, Noboru, discovers a peephole into his mother's adjoining bedroom, well hidden in a cabinet inside the closet. It allows him to study his mother's naked body and later the coitus between she and Ryuji. The focus then shifts to Ryuji, and over time we learn his backstory, and how Noboru's interest in ships and maritime trivia lead to the eventual hookup of his mother and sailor. There's a lovely sentence in which Ryuji thinks about how his great quest across every corner of the Earth ends on a point of exquisite sensation: the tip of his finger caressing a woman's nipple. The book is filled with countless wonders of such poetic beauty, but eventually it leads into darker territory about what it means to be a man, about the lies of fathers (or more accurately, the fear of growing up into a world where there is no real control or heroism for a man), and the seductive violence of groupthink. Noboru, as it happens has joined a group of proto-fascist youths who pervert the Nietzschean idea of the Superman. Their hatred of weak men, which all of them consider their fathers to be, drive the characters to a fate about which I cannot elaborate. Let's just say that the moment Ryuji morphs from a sailor-hero to a mere father figure in Noboru's mind is a pivotal one. There's a very disturbing passage in the book where the gang practices their "manly" cleansing ritual of cold violence on a poor kitten. To them, in their warped idea of real manhood, such violence brings some kind of order to the universe. The book accurately essays the dangers of social conformity in extremis and along the way somehow manages to mix in equal portions of romantic longing, family dynamics, the workings of port cities and international import and export, the pull of the sea vs. life on land, and the lure of ritual -- the latter being something of great appeal to the traditionalist Mishima. I suspect that Mishima's concerns about the Japanese man as an emasculated being might also stem from the sense of Japanese defeat after World War II. The novel takes place after the war, more or less contemporaneous to its publication in the 1960s.

I also love how the novel enters the thoughts of the characters as they internally edit themselves when they verbalize bland platitudes and chitchat to one another -- chastising themselves for not saying what they really want to say. The physical descriptions of the living quarters, the environs and the sights of Yokohama are masterly. Rarely have I encountered a book in which so much poetic and langorous space co-exists within such a fast-moving, concise narrative. The book seems to be going in one very romantic direction and then shifts gears to something disturbing and ominous. It takes a deft hand to make such a change of emphasis work. Mishima, it seems, possessed the mastery to pull it off. This is a great book and a super fast read. Another one for my favorites category.
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Reading Progress

01/27/2010 page 18
01/27/2010 page 55
30.39% "My lord what a lovely book this is!" 2 comments
01/27/2010 page 192
100% 1 comment
03/17/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Evan A rerun from last year. Thought this might be interesting to some of you.

Iphis Really loved your review! I agree with many of your observations about the book. Mishima is such a master!

Evan Thank you, Erica. Not much I can add to it!

Erica wrote: "Really loved your review! I agree with many of your observations about the book. Mishima is such a master!"

Anastasia I love your review. I love this book..now I want to read it again.

Evan Anastasia, thank you. Enjoy your second reading!

Anastasia wrote: "I love your review. I love this book..now I want to read it again."

Anastasia Hi Evan. Thanks!!!
hope to see more of your reviews..

Evan I've made review writing here a non-priority for the time being. But I do have a backlog of several hundred here already. I'm preoccupied with writing my third novel and working my new second job at Barnes & Noble.

Anastasia wrote: "Hi Evan. Thanks!!!
hope to see more of your reviews.."

Michael Perkins spot on!

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