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4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5 stars
Spring Snow (The Sea of Fertility)
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Just after author Yukio Mishima finished the final novel in his "Sea of Fertility" tetralogy on November 25, 1970, he disemboweled himself in a ritual suicide--seppuku. Mishima, aged forty-five, believed whole-heartedly in the strengths of the old Japanese emperors and in the strong, aristocratic culture that had evolved from the samurai. Spring Snow, written in 1966, is the first of the four novels of what is generally regarded as his masterpiece, a series which explores the essence of life, the spiritual beliefs which make that life meaningful, the obligations of man to a wider society, the relationship of chance to free will, and the glory of dying for one's beliefs. By using a historical approach, with each of these novels taking place later than the previous one, and by repeating his characters, Mishima allows the reader to see Japanese cultural and social history change over a fifty-year period.

Spring Snow begins in 1912. The Meiji dynasty has ended, and Kiyoake Matsugae is a schoolboy at the exclusive, but rigidly spartan, Peers School. By age fifteen, Kiyoake, schooled in courtly manners, appears ready to make his mark within the court. He does, however, hate the militant atmosphere and prefers a more artistic, emotional life. Satoko Ayakura, two years older, is the daughter of the family where Kiyoake grew up, and when he begins to have romantic feelings for her, he is caught in the philosophical no-man's-land between the harshly rigid values of his school (and much of his culture) and his own feelings of need for warmth and communication. Though she is also attracted to him, he refuses to admit that he needs anyone or anything to be a man, and he alternately encourages and rejects any future relationship.

The novel uses this relationship to illustrate Mishima's themes of change. Though Satoko has virtually no importance because she is a woman, the reader cannot help but identify with her, and Kiyoake, at eighteen, is so conflicted that many contemporary western readers will despair of his achieving any enlightenment at all. The reaction of his friend, Shigekuni Honda, a fellow-student, and of Iinuma, his personal tutor, both of whom are repeating characters in the tetralogy, keep the conflicts in focus and guide the reader to an understanding of the author's purpose. Mishima's several forays into philosophical analysis, in the course of the novel, provide wider perspective into his own attitudes toward life, love, and death, and though they do sometimes feel intrusive and not quite integrated, but they counteract the melodrama and romance which might otherwise overwhelm the narrative.

Mishima describes the houses, clothing, rituals, and even hairstyles of the period in detail, adding to the epic sweep of the novel. The need for a character's real feelings to be hidden, as the required patterns for communication are observed, is both frustrating and enlightening, and his use of symbols from nature add to the atmosphere and the novel's meanings. Despite Mishima's awesome reputation and his notoriety as a result of his ritual suicide, his writing is not esoteric. Instead, he writes in an accessible, descriptive style which graphically conveys the culture of Japan in the days leading up to World War I. Mary Whipple
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on 27 June 2008
Spring Snow is a 1966 novel by Yukio Mishima, the first in his Sea of Fertility tetralogy that concerns itself principally with themes of love, death and reincarnation. It's an evocative and at times philisophical novel, rendered into English with the apparently painstaking care and meticulous spirit in which is written. The translator has done an incredible job delivering Mishima's highly disciplined descriptive style in English, which is deeply rooted in Japanese aesthetic traditions. In reading Spring Snow we are priviledged access to the seemingly impenetratable Japanese spiritual identity - and the unique visual grammar so deeply entwined with it - in a way that a weaker translation might have failed to do. Some of the descriptive passages in particular are so vivid and evocative (and often cinematic) that is hard to believe that we are reading anything but the authentic voice of the author.

While some of the philosophical ruminations, most often delivered as dialogue, leave me cold - it seems too overt when compared to the novel's subtler explorations, especially those in the realm of aesthetics - the principal storyline is devestatingly emotive. While some readers might find Mishima's style a little too self-conscious, too disciplined, others (like myself) may find themselves sucked into the intense seasonal imagery, as richly coloured as it is tactile. The quote on the back of the book compares Mishima's prose to the perfectionism of a Japanese garden, and while this may seem like lazy cultural stereotyping, it is hard to disagree. Mishima's writing is highly stylised, yes, but with a taut symmetry rooted in the cyclical nature of Japanese spiritual and aesthetic traditions.
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on 10 July 1997
Spring Snow is a dramatic, moving work that helps codify Mishima's tetralogy, the Sea of Fertility, as perhaps the 20th century's greatest magnum opus. Mishima writes in a delicately impressionistic style, employing similes and metaphors of subtle, almost fragile beauty, that create a vivid and harmonic unity that simply inspire awe. Like Dante, he moves the reader's spirit as his characters spirits evolve. Like Dostoyevsky, he plunges relentlessly into the dark caprices of the mind. Like Milton, his word choice was so perfect that I put down the Sea of Fertility wishing that I had written it myself.

Spring Snow, the first installment of the cycle, stands very well on its own (though its ultimate meaning can only be appreciated as the tetralogy is continued). It takes place early in 20th century Japan, a time of transition in which Japan's decreased isolation leads to a Westernization that ultimately proves Spring Snow to be an elegy for the samurai tradition. It is also a wonderful and tragic love story -- far more convincing than Romeo and Juliet -- in which an impossible and doomed love threatens the young protagonists whose wealthy families adjust to the changing sociopolitical climate of Japan.

The other three books in the cycle are (in order):

'Runaway Horses,' 'The Temple of Dawn,' and 'The Decay of the Angel'
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on 2 July 2017
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on 17 May 1999
Perhaps I shouldn't review this book in light of the fact that I haven't read the whole tetralogy. However, after reading 'Spring Snow' I'm trying to plow through 'Runaway Horses' as quickly as I can so I can get to volumes III & IV to complete the whole cycle.
He pays wonderful attention to detail and subtlety without it becoming tedious or overbearing. I can't begin to count the hours of sleep I lost pouring through this book. I look forward to completing the cycle so I can go to bed at a decent hour again.
Mishima's writing is entrancing. Of all the supposed western "classics" that were forced on me in high school and college, this one surpasses them all. Mishima should be required reading, and I thank the wonderful college professor that introduced me to his work.
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on 28 July 1998
Briefly, the Sea of Fertility tetrology has much in common with Dostoevsky. Mishima's characters act within the tight confines of aristoocratic Japan in the early to mid 20th Century. However, the real story underneath the cultural one involves a brilliant and sustained discussion of the Budhist conceptions of samsara, karma and reincarnation. Mishima's investigation of this subject covers Hindu, ancient Greek, 19th Century German and countless schools of Budhism.
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VINE VOICEon 15 September 2011
This isn't just a story. It is obvious from the first ripples that this book is quite introspective and illuminates Mishima himself. It is a tortured love story set amidst social obligation with underlying currents of pain and narcissism. 'The course of true love never did run smooth,' - naturally it is more interesting because of the restraints and the unusual character of Kiyoaki Matsugae. It is beautifully written with a thoughtful appreciation of nature and the changing seasons (even more than usual for a Japanese writer) which is relevant because the seasons are like a ticking clock. Time is evidently on the mind of Mishima. This is the first of four books in the Sea of Tranquillity tetralogy. I have taken a dip in it but I will save the swimming for later, once I have revived.
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on 14 October 2011
Some 20 years after my first read, it wasn't so surprising how many of the salient images I could still vividly recall. This book had a powerful impact on me the first time due to the controlled passion and internal tensions of many of the characters. This time it was also facinating to reflect on the moral codes and loyalties at play between friends, family and at a social level.

Overall, though, it is the passion and tragedy of self-deception that remain long after you've finished reading it.
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on 28 January 1999
While the last three books of Mishima's Sea of Fertility cycle tend to get bogged down in somewhat convoluted philosophical arguments, which may hold interest for some (Temple of Dawn), or by uninspired writing (Runaway Horses), Spring Snow, the first, displays no such weakness. It is a novel of immensely beautiful imagery and lyricism and overall perfection. What's more, this translation truly does justice to the beauty of the original Japanese.
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on 7 October 2009
This book from Mishima is a beautiful meditation on the meaning of love and the folly of youth. The prose, as is the case for much Japanese writing, has a delicate touch and creates haunting images. The connection between the natural world and the emotional content of the text is sharply drawn and evocative. Mishima's characters are flawed, and not always likeable, but they are real, and it is easy to become drawn into their world. Although placed in a period setting, the book feels strangely contemporary in the alienation of some of the characters and the way in which they repsond to what happens around them. Technically, the first part of a tetralogy, but this book can easily be read as a stand-alone work. The images will live on in your mind for a long time after reading - a must-read for anyone interested in Japanese fiction.
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