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The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima, published in 1954 and translated by Meredith Weatherby is a story of a young fisherman, Shinji, his path to maturity, and his romance with a young diver girl, Hatsue, daughter of the wealthiest man in their small fishing village. The two fall in love but must endure the village people’s gossip and the stubborn conservatism of Hatsue’s father, Terukichi.
As in love with Mishima as I am, it’s hard to say that I fully enjoyed this novel. Its simplicity, paradoxically, is distressing. There are moments which epitomize Mishima’s modern perception and interpretation of traditional Japanese beauty and values — moments which do attract my attention, and do please me aesthetically, but fail to outweigh the over simplicity of the plot.
An example of the moments in which Mishima charms me, his prose strong and alluring, can be found when Shinji first meets Hatsue and is left amazed (and sexually enchanted) as Hatsue cleans her sweater of dirt:
“Hatsue followed his gaze and saw the dirty smudge, just in the spot where she had been leaning her breast against the concrete parapet. Bending her head, she started slapping her breast with her open hands. Beneath her sweater, which all but seemed to be concealing some firm supports, two gently swelling mounds were set to trembling ever so slightly by the brisk brushing of her hands.
Shinji stared in wonder. Struck by her hands, the breasts seemed more like to small, playful animals. The boy was deeply stirred by the resilient softness of their movement.” (31)
It is here also where I am conflicted by the notion that makes the case for sexual tension/attraction to satisfy personal/non-sexual desires. This is a book that raises the question: love or lust? We’ve seen it before, and in some cases it works effectively — forcing the reader to wonder whether or not each party is engaged in a sexual relationship or a non-sexual relationship: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, and so on. But this book makes it hard to come to a single conclusion. Much of the book’s characters are gossiping around the idea that Hatsue has lost her virginity to Shinji — which we, as the reader, know not to be true. So then, in Shinji’s and Hatsue’s struggle, is it possible to argue that this story is more importantly a story about love? Yes.
It is hard to discuss this without mentioning the symbolism which accompanies the entity of the “white freighter” which “filled [Shinji’s] heart with strange emotions” (19). White, as we know, is the color of purity and youth. The freighter makes other appearances in the novel, including in the closing pages when it is seen sailing away from the village. This use of symbolism suits Mishima and expands on the aforementioned interpretation of traditional Japanese beauty — and is perhaps the novel’s greatest quality.
However, as previously discussed, this novel lacks serious plot interest; there never seems to be, other than in the novel’s climax, a moment to which I am entirely fixated. Furthermore, I believe this novel has great command of language, imagery, and symbolism. I only wish some of the characters had been more interesting, especially the main characters, and more deserving of my sympathy. The one character whom I greatly enjoyed was the character of Chiyoko, who in discovering Shinji’s admiration for Hatsue becomes jealous and in one scene, before Shinji sets off to fish, asks of him:
“Shinji — am I so ugly?”
“What?” the boy asked, a puzzled look on his face.
“My face — is it so ugly?”
Chiyoko hoped the dawn’s darkness would protect her face, making her appear even the slightest bit beautiful. But the sea to the east — didn’t it seem to be already turning light?” (117)
In all of this, and as a summation of my feelings, I will grant this novel a three out of five. It is worth a read, it’s relatively short — but it is good to note that some readers may become bored and want to put the story down. I recommend this book for the days in between spring and summer, when the air is good and soft.
I do look forward to reading some more of Mishima.
I love questions like this.
I am currently reading Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves. One of his easier and simpler novels. I plan to read more of him, since I’ve been jumping back and forth between passages (from different books of his, like Confessions of a Mask and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.)
I’m also working on finishing Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, if you’re into the Russian nihilistic canon. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn — really clever take on family and, I guess, post-modern absurdism. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, which is hard to enjoy at first, but becomes increasingly interesting as characters develop and/or die. Quite a bit of death in that one.
Some of the books that stand out on my bookshelf are: anything by Charles Bukowski (including his poetry collections), John Green (if you’re interested in YA fiction), anything by Hemingway, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman is a biggie for me, Sylvia Plath, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Safran Foer (especially Everything is Illuminated. By far my favorite novel of all time), Dante Alighieri, Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest is an hilarious play), Nicole Krauss (especially Man Walks Into a Room or The History of Love. Both really wonderful novels), Jon Krakauer, and so on.
You can find my goodreads page under my “links.” Stay updated. I always mark which books I’m reading and ones I intend to read.
As for being able to comprehend books — well. I can’t teach you what I’ve learned in a few paragraphs, but I can give you some basic (and very obvious) tips.
- Understand the language. You can’t read English if you’re not familiar with the nuances, the syntax, or the words for that matter. If English isn’t your first language, try reading a lot in your native language first. Then practice reading English, reading the classics, reading the most contemporary. If you’re having trouble with comprehension, you definitely don’t want to start with the big boys, like David Foster Wallace, Herman Melville, Vladimir Nabokov, Friedrich Nietzsche, and so on. Start with easier reads. Good YA fiction can help. And I stress good because there’s a lot of shitty YA fiction.
- When reading, always look for things that stand out. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sit slouched over the book trying to dissect meaning. Reading isn’t meant to be a burden or a chore. It’s meant to be fun, interesting.
- Here’s a small catalogue of approaches: Look for: motifs, characterization, symbols, historical context, irony, patterns, puzzling statements.
- Thomas C. Foster wrote a couple of books which more or less teach one to “read like a professor.” I read How to Read Literature Like a Professor. It really really helped me in understanding more about literature and patterns in literature and how they contribute to the meaning of works as a whole.
- John Green made an interesting video on how and why we read. It can be found here.
But most of all: never be discouraged. Authors aren’t trying to hurt you. They are trying to have a conversation with you.
Voltaire sums it up pretty well, that witty ‘ol bugger:
“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”
Creating something beautiful and becoming beautiful oneself are indistinguishable.
— Yukio Mishima, (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters)
This idea speaks to me viscerally; it attacks me from all sides. Too long have I thought beauty came exclusively from the constructions of the mind — more specifically, intellectualism. How naively have I existed in a state of thought which was wrongly convinced that beauty could only be attained through words. Now I have realized the body is its own work of art and that in order for human beauty to endure, one must live between the duality of body and mind. I have been inspired by Yukio Mishima to make out of my body a masterpiece, a work of art. I will not allow my body to fail me; I will, like Mishima, defy nature. I will make myself beautiful. I will paint myself upon the world like the painter paints upon his canvas the last and most important stroke.