It’s been two weeks since I wrote a proper review about a book. It is getting more and more difficult for me to read books now, is it the weather? (all sunny and blue). Is it work? Yes, most of the time I’m exhausted after working overtime. But I manage to kick-off August with two light Japanese novels. Hope you don’t mind my short reviews which ended up to be one long review! First up, it is my favourite author Mishima, again, this time with The Sound of Waves……. (can’t you hear it?)
‘The Sound of Waves’ 潮騒 Shiosai, tells the story of Shinji Kubo, a eighteen year old fisherman who lives on Uta~Jima island which means ‘Song Island’ with his widowed mother and his younger brother. Shinji is very quiet and hardworking, he works hard on the ship, ‘Taihei~maru’ with his master, Jukichi and Ryuji, a fellow fisherman.
Shinji falls in love with Hatsue Miyata, the only daughter of Old Uncle Teru, the wealthiest man in Uta~Jima, Hatsue has returned from Oizaki in Shima after training to be a pearl diver, ‘a diving woman’ and she works alongside Shinji’s mother who is a diving woman. The return of Hatsue is the talk of the villagers, everyone wants to know who will Hatsue married, the obvious choice seems to be Yasuo Kawamoto, the son of one of the leading families in the village, spoilt and lazy, but Hatsue falls in love with Shinju, soon they become the talk of the village and Shinji must prove his worth.
To add some complexity to the love triangle, The lighthouse keeper daughter, Chiyoko , who is educated in Tokyo University and only goes back to the island during summer holiday, also has a crush in Shinju, face with such opposing forces, will Shinji be with Hatsue at the end?
Why I read it: I wanted to read something light and quick and this seems to be the right choice as it has been sitting on my shelf for 2 years.
What I thought:
It is a strange and unusual reading experience for me to read this book. Why? The reason must be one which sounds a little grim and macabre… I keep expecting misfortune to befell on the lovestruck couple. I thought when Yasuo tracked down Hatsue while she is hauling water out of the well, he is going to force himself on her; or when Shinji is at sea battling the waves (to be honest, the scenes from The Perfect Storm movie keep coming up on my head!) I thought he is going to be perished together with the sea. I thought Hatsue’s father is going to use some violent force and eliminate any chance of Shinji ever getting close to his daughter etc. etc…
But no! Yasuo and Hatsue hide and seek became one of comical one, with Yasuo got hit on the head with stones. Everything turns out to be all rosey and sunny like a holiday under the sun.
This isn’t Mishima??!! I thought. This is so unlike Mishima to spun such a straightforward, fun-loving, lovely story about two lovers who live in this quaint and beautiful fishing village where the people and the sea are one in soul and in every fabric of their lives. Yes, there is occasional opposition, anger, despair and hatred but it is nothing like Mishima’s usual dark, controversial and often imminent death-like novels in his other books, in which I have read.
Mishima, as I expect, is versatile. Here he spun an endearing love story and captured the imagination of movie producers. For this book Mishima was awarded the Shincho Prize from Shinchosha Publishing in 1954. It was adapted to film on five separate occasions.
If you like short and sweet sampling of Mishima’s otherwise darker books. A welcoming change for me (even if it disappoints me that there were nothing substantial like sad tragedies that happened in the island! :D). If there is a good introductory book to Mishima, this will be it.
Other review: Steph and Tony investigate
Paperback. Publisher: Vintage Classic 2000, originally published in 1956; Length: 183 pages; Setting: Uta-jima island, Japan. Source: Own copy. Finished reading on the 6th August 2012.
Next up, I read Thousand Cranes within 2 hours. Really, the book is so thin, you can finish it quicker than me!
What it is:
Thousand Cranes is published in 1958. As the blurb doesn’t do justice to clear the confusion, I’ll supply my own. Here goes: A young man, Kikuji has been invited to a tea ceremony by a mistress of his dead father, Chikako. He is shocked to find there the mistress’ rival, Mrs Ota, another of Kikuji’s Father’s mistress, whom he stayed with till the last days of his life. Mrs Ota brought her daughter, Fumiko along, a mirror image of her mother. If this is not embarrassing enough, Chikako has meant for Kikuji to meet his potential future bride, Yukiko Inamura, from the reputable Inamura family.
It was this awkward encounter that Mrs Ota came to him and told Kikuji how much he reminds her of his father and the beautiful memories that Kikuji’s father has given to her. It is not a secret to spoil this as the blurb says all went towards the road of destruction and sufferance when Kikuji is drawn to a relationship with Mrs Ota and Chikako doesn’t like it at all and is scheming to break them apart.
However, despite his attraction to Miss Inamura, Kikuji is equally fascinated with Mrs Ota and her daughter and, rather surprisingly, becomes involved in a relationship with Mrs Ota.
Why I read it: I saw it on the library shelf and thought it was such a thin book. I’ll be able to finish it within 2 hours.
What I thought:
Kikuji is entangled into the affairs and personal conflicts of the three women in his life, of the two was his late father’s mistresses (if you count the less mentioned Miss Inamura which Kikuji was supposed to be matched, that will be 4 women altogether!). Ironically his mother was not mentioned very much in the scheme of things.
Chikuko is a welcome villain figure in the novel. She barges into Kikuji’s home, cleans up his house, puts out the washed laundry, interferes with Kikuji’s personal affairs, gossips, slanders and then chip in with a wise remark such as this:
“When a person is too much of a man or too much of a woman, the common sense generally isn’t there.”
You got to love her… 😉
Kawabata, again here ( I have read Snow Country), is the master of describing the subtlety of emotions and what is unsaid in the Japanese culture and I have learnt a bit more about the historical tea masters and the reverence of tea culture and tea sets.
The significance of a thousand cranes in Japanese culture:
A “Senbazuru” or 1000 cranes—often made of paper, like in Japanese origami—are a symbol of good luck in several Asian countries. A “Senbazuru” may be used at the time of a birth of a child or at a wedding, as a gesture of good luck or good providence for the child, couple or new family. According to Wikopedia, “It is also used as a matchmaking charm for a Japanese girl when she turns 13 years old. She would make 1000 paper cranes and give it to an admired boy.”
The dead from the “other world” come to haunt and rule the living. As Kikuji wrestles with the claims of pitiable Mrs Ota and the tough survivor Chikako, the rituals and vessels of the tea ceremony symbolically enact the guilt, grief and longing of these stranded souls.
The ending wasn’t tight but that’s fine with me. I am not keen on reading about melodramatic women, so therefore a 3.5.
Other book reviews and resource:
Paperback. Publisher: Penguin Classic 2011, originally published in 1958; Length: 101 pages; Setting: Japan. Source: Reading Library copy. Finished reading on the 9th August 2012.
I’m reading these two for the J-lit 6 challenge.