This book is part of my ongoing personal challenge to read David Bowie's top 100 books.
Years ago, I had a book called The People's Almanac. It was really a book of trivial information compiled and categorized into book form. I found the book in a free box in Martin, TN's only used bookstore (back when they had a used bookstore). There were two, Volumes I and II, and they had just these random articles and were great toilet reading.
Anyway, there was an article in one of the volumes on Yukio Mashima, a Japanese author who died in 1970. What is memorable about Mashima is not that he was one of Japan's foremost writers-- think James Joyce to Ireland-- but that Mashima committed suicide via seppuku. Seppuku, for those of us who don't follow a samurai code or feel particularly self murder-y, is ritual suicide via disembowelment.
Yeah, let me repeat that for you. Yukio Mashima committed seppuku in 1970 when he was at the height of being "Japan's Most Important Person in Literature of the 20th Century."
Mashima was a writer who was nominated not once for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Not nominated twice for the Nobel Prize. No, this was a writer who was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in literature and at the age of 45, he took over the headquarters of Tokyo's Japan Special Defenses Office, and staged an attempted coup d'etat, demanding the reinstatement of the Emperor. When Mashima went outside and addressed the soldiers, they jeered him and acted annoyed. He came back inside and, and following the bushido code, took a sword and disemboweled himself.
THAT'S WHO WROTE THIS BOOK!
And the funny thing is, I didn't realize it. I just picked a book at random off the Bowie list and searched for it. It wasn't at the local library (big shock there) and it wasn't on the regional e-library (another huge shock) and it wasn't at the college library where I work. It was, however, at the library of the college where I went to grad school.
Now, that's an hour away and sounds like some really deep obsession until I explain that my spouse takes a night class there and I often go with her so as to just have the time together and do any big city thing I might want while she's in class. So, I went and got it last week while she was in class.
So, I read 60 pages that night. It wasn't bad. It was, actually, pretty interesting. The story of a group of 13 year old boys in post WWII Japan and their desire to strip themselves of any emotion or sentimentality. The goal, I believe, was to become "hard hearted." The story centers on one boy and his widowed mother and her relationship with a Japanese merchant sailor who grew up dreaming of finding glory and greatness at sea.
It was only once I got home that I realized-- THIS WAS THAT GUY! THIS WAS THE GUY WHO DISEMBOWELED HIMSELF! I'm not sure if it matters to the reading, but it certainly does make the nihilistic view of the 13 year olds of the book much more disturbing. And The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea is a dark and disturbing book. There is not a lot of graphic stuff, but there IS a lot of stuff that might be challenging without historical context and there's plenty to chew over once you find out what the author did five years later.
I'm glad I read it. It was not a long read, but it was a read that might prove culturally challenging for Westerners if they don't understand the idea of "saving face" and the ways in which that has manifest in Japanese culture. I don't think one has to be an expert by any means (I certainly am not) to understand it, but I think without it, the characters might seem like deranged lunatics. (To some degree, the kids are, but that's beside the point.)
Anyway, that was my first Bowie book of this challenge. I'd recommend this one. It's interesting, challenging, but not so difficult that it couldn't be read by any literate person.