Title: The Temple of Dawn
Author: Yukio Mishima
Translator: E. Dale Saunders and Cecilia Segawa Seigle
With each novel I read that has been penned by Yukio Mishima I become more and more impressed; not only do his novels give incredible detail into the inner human psyche, but they also are damn entertaining, which is something that most novelists cannot pull off as beautifully as Mishima can. At the same time, however, I always start one of his books thinking to myself that this book cannot possibly be better than the last, and yet I am proved wrong every time. Now I have found myself at The Temple of Dawn, Mishima’s third novel in his epic tetralogy The Sea of Fertility, and once again see that he keep getting better and better.
The Temple of Dawn, in a way, is an anomaly within the tetralogy, since it is the only one to house two distinctive parts in one book. Where Spring Snow and Runaway Horses had simple, ever flowing storylines that pretty much followed a very chronological order, without too many jumps, or time gaps, spanning only a few years, if that, The Temple of Dawn begins somewhere in 1939, and ends in 1967. That is the largest time gap Mishima has ever worked with, so it seems completely necessary that the novel would be broken up into two parts, unlike it’s predecessors.
Part One of The Temple of Dawn opens with a brief history of Bangkok, Thailand (just recently changed from Bangkok, Siam in ’39), and is subsequently where the majority of Part One will take place, with some of the action also occurring in India. Shigekuni Honda, who was introduced in Spring Snow as a minor character, friend to Kiyoaki Matsugae, still remains the protagonist of The Sea of Fertility. While on a business trip to Thailand Honda is granted an audience with an insane Princess, appropriately named Princess Moonlight, because of his ties to the two Thai Princes’ who Honda came to know through their stay at the Matsugae house in Spring Snow.
It is during this audience that Honda first meets Princess Moonlight, who will later become Ying Chan. Ying Chan, at the time a seven year old girl, living in a huge palace alone, since people think she is mentally ill due to her believing she is not a Thai Princess, but the reincarnation of a Japanese man, automatically clings to the legs of Honda once he enters the palace, screaming, "Oh Mr. Honda! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to kill myself," the apparent last words of Isao, the young man whom Honda represented in Spring Snow, and the first reincarnation of Kiyoaki. This, needless to say, has a great impact on Honda. Honda spends the remainder of his visit in Thailand visiting with Ying Chan. However, Honda becomes skeptical if Ying Chan really is the reincarnation of Kiyoaki and Isao after a short trip to a bathing pool, where Honda does not find the three distinct moles on her chest as she baths nude.
Up until this point The Temple of Dawn has been an extremely entertaining, insightful and exciting novel, with many little things that stick out as being remarkable. Unfortunately, the remainder of Part One is dedicated to Honda’s research into Buddhism, Hinduism, and reincarnation, which needless to say becomes extremely boring and not interesting in the slightest. After digesting nearly a hundred pages devoted to samsara, and treatises on manas, we are reintroduced to the story when Honda takes a short walk after a bombing raid in Japan, now in the height of World War II. During this walk Honda finds himself outside of the newly destroyed House of Matsugae, where he used to spend his adolescence, and surprisingly he finds an old women sitting among the rubble: that women being Tadeshina, the female servant who arranged for Satoko and Kiyoaki to meet in secret through out Spring Snow. With this encounter Honda gains an immense desire to see Satoko, who has become an Abbess after her final days with Kiyoaki.
Thus ends Part One of The Temple of Dawn, with high hopes that Honda will seek out Satoko, something that no doubt every reader of The Sea of Fertility would like to see happen. Unfortunately, this does not happen, but what is given instead in Book Two is unlike anything else Mishima has committed to text in his whole career. Honda is reintroduced as a newly rich man, in the Post-War years of Japan, and an array of subplots emerge with Honda’s recently acquired acquaintances, from Imanishi’s Land Of The Pomegranate, to the insane relationship between Mrs. Tsubakihara, and Makiko, Isao’s love interest in Runaway Horses.
Ying Chan is reintroduced as well, now as a seventeen year old girl who is studying in Japan, only she remembers hardly anything about her past as an insane princess who believed she as a dead Japanese man. When Honda comes into contact with her again he becomes overly determined to find out whether or not she is, in fact, the reincarnation of his friend and client. Because of this Honda becomes a conspirator and a voyeur, trying in vain to see Ying Chan naked in order to see with certainty the presence or absence of the three moles on her chest.
To reveal the remainder would be an injustice, as it is something that needs to be read to be understood fully. Yukio Mishima is a master of his craft, and even after the way too long explanation of Buddhist beliefs, The Temple of Dawn has to be one of his best works ever, and a testament to his master craft of joining post-modern aesthetics, and surrealist situations into entertaining and insightful pieces of literature. It is no wonder that Yukio Mishima felt the need to commit seppuku after completing The Sea of Fertility, as it is apparent that he did in fact but all of his life into this cycle of novels.
The Sea of Fertility
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