Death in midsummer, and other stories

by Yukio Mishima

Paperback, 1966

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

[New York] New Directions [1966]

Media reviews

"In this collection of nine short stories and one work that the author describes as a 'modern No play,' Yukio Mishima unfolds to English-language readers a fuller range of his talents as he explores a variety of pathways into the complex Japanese personality."

User reviews

LibraryThing member iayork
Very impressive: A friend recommended Mishima to me, and this was the book I picked up. First, to respond to a reviewer below, this book (at least my copy) has no introduction, no preface, no afterward, and has numerous translators. The stories were selected by Mishima himself, and the book was published in New York. Reading any "leftist" intentions on the part of the publishers of this book, then, is certainly very strange, unless it was gleaned from the three paragraph synopsis on the back.That having been said, I was immensley impressed by this book. After the first three stories ("Death in Midsummer", "Three Million Yen", and "Thermos Bottle") I was ready to admit the genius of the author. The title story is abridged, and the translation on all three is awkward -- I don't know a bit of Japanese, but the English itself lacked lucidity and had some confused grammar. Nevertheless, there's a remarkable detail to the deliniation of character, a mesmorizing lyrical style, and a powerful look into the psychology of man when confronted with tragic and absurd circumstances. The stories, also, are brilliantly subtle satires of middle class values. The author clearly intends to show the decline in the Japanese character as a result of Westernization and modernization. At some points it hints at leftist values -- a dislike of the bourgeois, a sympathy for the poor, etc. But Mishima's strange and anachronistic political beliefs show us that his work is best read as insight into the identity crisis facing modern Japan, and not as leftist, or even entirely rightist. (I read, while glancing through a biography of the author, a statement he made after speaking to a group of leftist students. He said something to the effect of "We shared a friendship and an understanding, embracing through a barbed fence...")
As much as I appreciated the first three stories, however, I found the rest of the book to be much better, revealing an incredible diversity of style and theme. "The Priest and His Love" is a beautiful Buddhist fable exploring the paradox and power of beauty and sensuality. The style of writing reminded me a lot of Pär Lagerkvist. "Patriotism" caught me completely off-guard, and undoubtedly represents the greatest work in the book. Its the story of an officer who commits seppuku (ritual suicide) and his wife, who follows. With great fluidity and poetic grace, Mishima describes their final night together, then, in a frustratingly objective prose, describes the morbid end of the two. Violence and sensuality are tied in with finality, duty and beauty. Mishima was an aesthete, but of the rarest kind -- much in the spirit of Poe, perhaps. The story had an enormous impact of me.
"Dojoji," auspiciously set after "Patriotism," is one of Mishima's Noh plays, and shifts entirely to the languid, allegorical style that characterizes the Noh (contrasted by the turbulent, grotesque realism of the previous story). The play is about the auction of a giant wardrobe that has a gruesome past. Mishima's attempt to reinvigorate the tired Noh theatre was a noble effort, and (in my opinion) a successful one. The spiritual quality of the theatre proves a profound vehicle to the pessimism and spiritual despondency that characterizes modern literature and thought. After reading this play, I went out immediately and found a copy of "Five No Plays by Mishima" which I very much look forward to reading. The next story, "Onnagata," deliberately takes us to the other side of Japanese theatre, the kabuki. Its a homoerotic tale of obsession and infatuation, and a love triangle between three men (or rather, two men and an onnagata -- a man who plays, or rather lives, as a woman in kabuki theatre). One man seeks the elusive love of a famed onnagata by joining the kabuki theatre. The onnagata, for Mishima, is "the illicit child born of a marriage between dream and reality." As infatuation drives him further and further into the world of the kabuki, it has the strange effect of driving him further and further away from the onnagata's love, who, in the end, falls in love with a pretentious young guest director who knows nothing of the kabuki.
"The Pearl" completely surprised me. Of all things, its a social comedy, the type I had suspected, from reading the other stories, that the author was incapable of. To my delight, I was proved wrong. Again poking tremendous fun at the middle class, the story is about five middle aged women, and a lost pearl and a silly mischevious act that explodes into a tale of deciet, head games, and irony.
After reading this, I am a confirmed Mishima fan. It has also excited me into exploring contemporary Japanese literature. Very highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member kwohlrob
One of my favorite short story collections of all time. "Patriotism" is one of the finest examples of Mishima's greatness, blending absolutely beauty with a vicious reality. It is a great how-to example for wannabe writers who want to learn how to craft a perfect short story.
LibraryThing member the_darling_copilots
Once, when I was somewhat younger, I was upstairs reading "Patriotism" (from this volume) while I could hear someone watching "Dirty Dancing" downstairs. As the main characters consummated their suicides, my soundtrack was "I've Had the Time of My Life," the final song of the film. Now I can't think of this volume without recalling that absurdly American moment...… (more)
LibraryThing member mbmackay
A collection of short stories, all set in 20th century Japan, and including one with a long and graphic celebration of seppeku - the ritual suicide emulated by the author 4 years after publication of this book. His short story technique is fine - the characters and stories are quickly created and capture the reader's interest. But I was a little disappointed in the content and setting - few belong to the ordinary world of ordinary people. Mishima seems to have been happier in an imaginary hyper-Japanese world of geisha and affected manners. Read November 2009.… (more)
LibraryThing member blake.rosser
There are only a couple of stories that really moved me, but one of them, called "Patriotism" I think, about a Japanese officer and his wife committing ritual suicide, is simply astounding. It's worth reading the rest of the book just for that one, without doubt.
LibraryThing member amandacb
Mishima began my love of Japanese literature, especially short stories. Japanese literature has a refreshing vein of naturalism and mysticism, and Mishima's stories are prime examples. I used some of his stories to teach themes to tenth graders (especially the rain one, with the rain outside, the water in the fountain, the tears on the girl's face, etc). He's a brilliant short story writer. I also enjoyed his other collection, Acts of Worship.… (more)
LibraryThing member poetontheone
Though Mishima's best work, I believe, is to be found in the novel form, this collection of short stories has much to offer, though the quality tends to vary. I can't even remember the plot or characters of "Three Million Yen". "Swaddling Clothes" is wrought with redundant thoughts on the part of the main character, with the last few lines being the only real interesting bit of a rather static narrative. On the other hand, "Death in Midsummer" is a brooding portrait of maternal loss, with a tone that is as brooding and oppressive as the crashing waves that feature in the story as a sort of natural antagonist. "The Priest at Shiga Temple and His Love" is a striking portrait of idolatry, and inversely, enlightenment.

Finally, Patriotism is a visceral depiction of ritual suicide where Mishima's creates images so powerful that they struggle to transgress the bounds of text and transport themselves onto canvas. Despite the subject of the story and the severity with which it is handled, is it at heart a story of the great love and devotion that a wife has for her husband. This is Mishima's best short story, and it may even surpass a good number of his novels in terms of craft, imagery, and sheer emotional depth. This collection is essential for that one piece alone.
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Language

Original language

Japanese

Local notes

Various translators

Barcode

5025
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