Review – Mishima, “The Temple of Dawn”

Yukio Mishima, “The Temple of Dawn” (translated from the Japanese by E. Dale Saunders and Cecilia Segawa Seigle) (1970) – Ok! Book three of Mishima’s final tetralogy. Gotta say… this one is kind of slow. There’s a lot of travelogue stuff — Mishima was a big traveler — about Thailand and India which is decently written but doesn’t interest me that much. There’s several essay-length disquisitions about different ideas of reincarnation. Moreover, the book in general is about decay. In keeping with the larger thesis of the “Sea of Fertility” books, very few things can transcend the earthly tendency to decay- mostly, beautiful dead youths. This one emphasizes the decay state that beautiful death needs to transcend, so… a little slow.

It’s 1940, Japan is on the verge of war, and viewpoint character Honda Shigekuni is in Thailand. In full middle age by this point, and a successful corporate lawyer, Honda’s doing deals when he realizes that an eight year old Thai princess, Ying Chan, is the reincarnation of his high school friend Kiyoaki, who had been reincarnated in the previous book in the form of Isao, an ultranationalist high school student. This little girl who had never left Thailand keeps babbling about how she should be back in Japan, knows stuff only Kiyoaki or Isao would know, etc. Of course, being surrounded by minders and eight, there’s not much that can come of it, plus the war happens.

Fast forward to the postwar years. Honda does well from the occupation, but feels serious weltschmerz hanging out with the other Japanese elites who have done the same. He gets into voyeurism. He befriends some writers who are probably analogues to Japanese writers Mishima wants to say something unpleasant about. Ying Chan, now in her late teens, shows up in the circles Honda spends time in, and he gets all weird about her. He wants Ying Chan to sleep with his neighbor, for reasons I honestly can’t remember. It’s like that Gombrowicz novel “Pornografia,” where two old litterateurs try to get an attractive young couple to get together in the ruins of wartime Poland. What’s with that time period that weird old literary leches were trying to get attractive young people to bang, as though they wouldn’t anyway? Maybe it’s easy to believe in the end of all that when it seemed like the world was ending. Well, it works out for Honda, but spoiler alert: the princess dies, or else there wouldn’t be a third reincarnation of Kiyoaki for the last book.

I’m basically glad I’ve read these, even if this one is less rewarding. I’m starting to think maybe I should’ve started my Mishima reading with more popular fare like “The Sailor Who Fell Out of Grace With the Sea” but there’s always time for that. I suppose I’m interested in his big statement, and this book’s sequel is the literal last thing he ever wrote before meeting his self-imposed violent end, so… we’ll see. ***’

Review – Mishima, “The Temple of Dawn”

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