So, as I mentioned in a quick update from Friday, I had planned to read a book from my library in one day and post a review of it. It sounded like a stunt, and in a lot of ways it was, but I had fun doing it, even if it took me more than a day (night shift sucks).
So, the book I chose, as you can see from my riveting title, is called The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima. This book wound up on my shelf as a Christmas gift from a high school friend who seems to love all things from the Far East (that being Asia…do they still call it that?). Given that this man has a degree in creative writing from a pretty awesome school, I trust his judgment in all things good reading (especially poetry).
Anyway, onto the book. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea revolves around Noboru, a young teen who, with a group of friends, has come to view the world as meaningless and overly emotional. They attempt to maintain a severe state of “objectivity,” steeling themselves against feeling and compassion, seeing the world through cold eyes.
However, from what I can tell, something is different with Noboru. He lives with his single mom, Fusako, who has met a sailor named Ryuji, falling pretty hard for him, it seems. Noboru, through a peep hole in his wall, watches the two of them spend the night together, and finds a small amount of meaning in life through what he sees. He becomes conflicted with this view, and tries to steel himself against it. Throughout the book, though, I find him battling with what him and his friends believe, and what he’s finding with his mother’s boyfriend.
Honestly, I know this book is amazing, but it’s a LOT to take in, most of which is based around the characters and their own internal conflicts. There’s Noboru’s conflict with his “objectivity” and a man who he thinks embodies it (Ryuji). There’s the chief There’s Ryuji, who has spent his life striving for glory as a sailor on the open seas, only to leave it all for Fusako. There’s Fusako, whose wants in life are merely recognition of her own honor and pride, almost the embodiment of superficiality. Finally, there’s the chief, the sociopathic leader of Noboru’s friends, whose “philosophy” of objectivity and callousness is downright frightening sometimes.
There are some dominant themes that stood out to me as well, such as defining objectivity, nihilism, or unmet expectations. Ryuji, the sailor, realizes that what he once loved and exalted, glory and the sea, with his commitment to Fusako, have rejected him, and the life he once led now leads him to his own internal death.
One of the things that shocked me were Noboru and his gang of friends. The chief is constantly indoctrinating them with his own supposedly objective views of life, how callousness and lack of emotion are the only real ways humans should live. At one point, they take a stray kitten, smash its head against a log, and proceed to dissect it. While this isn’t exactly something I approve of (I happen to like cats quite a bit), I see what the author is doing here. The boys take an object of emotion, destroy it, and show it to be nothing of merit, nothing worth wasting breath over. To them, this is the cold universe looking on without care as to what happens to what some hold precious, and their disregard for live shows up later in the book as well.
This book was a great read; thought provoking, disturbing, and insightful into the darkness of humanity. Don’t come looking for a pick-me-up kind of book, but come looking to understand a side of humanity many either avoid or exploit. Mishima does neither: he only displays, and allows the reader to draw his own conclusions. Good, good book.