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Spring Snow: The Sea of Fertility, 1 [Paperback]

Yukio Mishima
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 14 1990 Vintage International (Book 1)
Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow is the first novel in his masterful tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility. Here we meet Shigekuni Honda, who narrates this epic tale of what he believes are the successive reincarnations of his friend, Kiyoaki Matsugae.
 
It is 1912 in Tokyo, and the hermetic world of the ancient aristocracy is being breached for the first time by outsiders — rich provincial families unburdened by tradition, whose money and vitality make them formidable contenders for social and political power. Shigekuni Honda, an aspiring lawyer and his childhood friend, Kiyoaki Matsugae, are the sons of two such families. As they come of age amidst the growing tensions between old and new, Kiyoaki is plagued by his simultaneous love for and loathing of the spirited young woman Ayakura Satoko. But Kiyoaki’s true feelings only become apparent when her sudden engagement to a royal prince shows him the magnitude of his passion — and leads to a love affair both doomed and inevitable.

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Review

“Perfect beauty. . . . A classic of Japanese literature.”
Chicago Sun-Times
 
“Mishima was one of literature's great romantics, a tragedian with a heroic sensibility, an intellectual, an esthete, a man steeped in Western letters who toward the end of his life became a militant Japanese nationalist.”
—Jay McInerney, The New York Times

From the Back Cover

"Mishima is like Stendhal in his precise psychological analyses, like Dostoevsky in his explorations of darkly destructive personalities."

-- Christian Science Monitor

"[The Sea of Fertility] is a literary legacy on the scale of Proust's."

-- National Review

Translated from the Japanese by Michael Gallagher


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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beauty is a terrible thing June 5 2001
By Hume An
Format:Paperback
Mishima, in his writing, is often preoccupied with aesthetic beauty. His characters slaver after it, long to assume it, and when apprehension is discovered to be forever out of reach, they long to remove this aesthetic beauty, this otherwordly perfection from the earth vis a vis a dramatic spectacle, which in turn becomes beauty itself.
Along with this obsession with beauty is a suspicion or a questioning of the intrinsic utility of beauty. What is the purpose of perfection if such perfection is ineffectual and even inimical to the human condition apart from the fact that beauty is beauty is beauty . . . ad nauseum?
In many ways Mishima uses Spring Snow as a means of inverting the sentiment of Keats' notion of "Beauty is truth, truth is beauty . . ." However, unlike the spectacle that beauty evokes in some of Mishima's other writings (and even his life), the bubble of spectacle never pops in Spring Snow, instead, beauty ferments and spreads like cancer.
In this novel, Mishima's main characters, Satoka and Kiyoaki, are destroyed by their beauty, their elegance, their noble breeding. Kiyoaki is analogous to Hamlet in his diffidence and his psychic inertia. Moreover, his brilliant physical beauty compounds the aforementioned with an overly large measure of pride, which, along with noble breeding, hermetically seals him into a jar of dreams, self-doubt, anomie, and ennui. Satoka, likewise, is beautiful, perfect, and her perfection carries and transmits a self-possessed, cold, and almost painful glare to the public eye. However, to Kiyoaki, Satoka is a smoldering woman of passion, full of riddles and intrigue.
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Format:Paperback
Yukio Mishima's SPRING SNOW is the first novel of his tetralogy "The Sea of Fertility", an attempt to trace the decay of Japanese values in the hundred years or so after its opening to the West. I found it a decent read, though the book is certainly flawed.
On the surface the novel appears to a simple tragic love affair taking place in 1911. Kiyoaki, a son of a marquis and finishing high school, enters a complicated relationship with Satoko, the daughter of a count he boarded at during his early childhood. He cannot decide whether he truly loves or despises her until she is engaged to a royal prince, at which point series of events make their lives fall apart. Kiyoaki is supported all the while by Honda, his best friend and a law student who is discovering at this time Western philosophy. In the background the Meiji emperor has just died and his successor swept into power, and provincial nobles are attempting to legitimize themselves in Tokyo while the fortunes of the old center of power decline.
Mishima's style is quite alluring, but the finest aspect of the novel is its characters. Kiyoaki is fantastically portrayed, a deluded romantic who unwittingly serves the forces of history tearing apart Japanese nobility. There is always a conflict between despising him and pitying him. Satoko is more of a mystery, but this seems to be intentional, an expression of some unknowable female otherness. Honda is the intent observer, trying to make sense of the tragedy befalling his friend and his society.
The translation by Michael Gallagher is generally readable, though I occasionally wondered if bits were added to Mishima's text in order to explain aspects of Japanese culture to English readers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Literary Masterpiece April 26 2003
Format:Paperback
This is the first work of Yukio Mishima's works that I have read. His writing style is beautiful. By passionately describing every aspect of the area where the scene takes place, he makes it feel like you are there, standing beside the main characters.
The main characters in Spring Snow are Kiyoaki Matsugae and Satoko Ayakura. Kiyoaki is the son of new money type of family. His peasant-born grandfather led the Matsugae family to greatness, and now they are a lower part of the nobility. To make their son elegant and refined, the Marquis and the Marquise Matsugae send their son, Kiyoaki to study with the ancient, noble Ayakura. It is there that Kiyoaki and Satoko meet. When the novel takes place, the two have never had any feelings for each other. But, the news that Satoko is engaged to marry an Imperial Prince causes Kiyoaki to realize that what was in front of him all along, Satoko, was the love of his life. So, they embark upon an affair.
I read this novel for pleasure, not for insight, and as such did not pick up on the underlying messages Mishima was trying to impart to the reader. However, this book is still a worthwhile read even if one does not fully understand it. The writing was very easy to read, and very beautiful; leading me to believe that the translator did his job well. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Read at once. May 29 2002
Format:Paperback
I've only read two Mishima books so far, am reading a third now, and intend to get through 'em all. Alas, I fear that none will be as good as the first one I read - Spring Snow. I really didn't think people could still write like this in the 20th century. I mean, star-crossed, tragic love was an old subject by the time Shakespeare got to it - what made Mishima think he could write something new about it hundreds of years later? But something did, and I'm glad it did. For while there is a [very interesting] historical context to Spring Snow (tell me, what other book paints such a visceral portrait of early 20th century Japan?), the focus is on the love story. And no one writes love stories like Yukio Mishima. Somehow, it manages to avoid the gaping pitfalls of sentimentalism and melodrama, creating instead a world of great beauty and fragility that I was loath to leave when the book drew to its close.
If you read a biography of Mishima, you will likely find mountains of speculation concerning his various eccentricities (and that word is putting is nicely, methinks). Some will accuse him of right-wingery, others will rant about his "nationalism," etc. etc. etc. But I think that none of that applies. He was in no way a political person, just a hopelessly deluded romantic who still believed that romantic ideals had any place in modern society. This he applied to politics as well as to everything else. Spring Snow, fortunately, contains no politics, concentrating instead on romantic ideals as applied to the personal. The result is something that, while being Japanese through and through, is accessible to anyone. This book is worth reading for the marvelously poetic descriptions alone.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Mobius strip
This is the beginning of the posthumous work of Mishima. You will follow the lives of four people who got reincarnated in different time and in different place with Honda. Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2004 by 13th-moon
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent
Mishima is one of the most descriptive writers of modern Japan. His texts tell the stories of the upper class, nevertheless, you will not find a better description of a Japanese... Read more
Published on Oct. 8 2003 by "ulyssedes"
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime perfection in literature....
This is probably the most beautifully rendered work I have ever had the pleasure to read. Mishima's sense of photographic realism in describing turn of the (last) century Japan is... Read more
Published on July 17 2003 by casey
5.0 out of 5 stars Please do not "See just the trees, but not the forest"
"See just the trees, but not the forest" is an old Chinese saying, meaning to comprehend, and thus evaluate, things only from partial angles and views. Read more
Published on Jan. 7 2003 by Yaojung Yang
5.0 out of 5 stars Please do not "See just the trees, but not the forest"
"See just the trees, but not the forest" is an old Chinese saying, meaning to comprehend, and thus evaluate, things only from partial angles and views. Read more
Published on Jan. 7 2003 by Yaojung Yang
5.0 out of 5 stars Please do not "See just the trees, but not the forest"
"See just the trees, but not the forest" is an old Chinese saying, meaning to comprehend, and thus evaluate, things only from partial angles and views. Read more
Published on Jan. 7 2003 by Yaojung Yang
5.0 out of 5 stars Please do not "See just the trees, but not the forest"
"See just the trees, but not the forest" is an old Chinese saying, meaning to comprehend, and thus evaluate, things only from partial angles and views. Read more
Published on Jan. 7 2003 by Yaojung Yang
5.0 out of 5 stars Please do not "See just the trees, but not the forest"
"See just the trees, but not the forest" is an old Chinese saying, meaning to comprehend, and thus evaluate, things only from partial angles and views. Read more
Published on Jan. 7 2003 by Yaojung Yang
5.0 out of 5 stars Spring Snow
An ellegant work that follows brilliantly in the Mishima conceit that beauty and youth are as intertwined as they are fleeting. Read more
Published on April 28 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars haunting
I just finished this first novel in the series. This is so much more than a tragic story of star-crossed lovers. Read more
Published on Sept. 12 2001 by Kelly
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