I realise we’re still in the first week of January, but I’m going to say it: we have an early contender for the book’s blog of the year 2016! As with all my book reviews, I will keep detail on the plot brief so you can discover the magic for yourself.
Spring Snow is a tumultuous and bittersweet romance novel set in 1912 Tokyo, where one’s loyalty to the emperor comes before all else and rich families are finding themselves in new powerful roles due to the external influence of the western world. At a time of great social upheaval, Kiyoaki Matsugae, the son of a nouveau-riche family, and Satoko Ayakura, the daughter of an aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times, embark a secret romance that must inevitably end in tragedy.
Although Kiyoaki and Satoko are childhood friends, Kiyoaki is caught between love and loathing at the beginning of the novel. He is aloof, manipulative and cruel not only to Satoko but to his tutor, Iinuma, and I found him completely unlikeable for most of the novel. It is only at the very end that he spectacularly redeems himself. I found Satoko much more likeable, who becomes engaged to a prince early on, which kindles Kiyoaki’s conflicted affection for her. She is sadly a victim of the historical period she lives in, where her family’s loyalties to the emperor take priority and women are defined by their virginity and marriage.
The story does not revolve solely around Kiyoaki and Satoko and is by no means a simple historical romance. Shigekuni Honda, Kiyoaki’s loyal friend, plays a number of important roles: not only in keeping his relationship with Satoko a secret, but also in the narration and driving of the story. It is through Shigekuni that the author poses most of his philosophical questions about reincarnation, the rule of law, the nature of war and much more.
Even in its translated form, it doesn’t feel that any of the meaning behind and beauty of Spring Snow has been lost in the process. Michael Gallagher’s translation is poetic and emotive, whether you are reading about the scenery, the characters or the romance.
It is hard to go into much further detail about the plot or characters without giving too much away, but I cannot recommend Spring Snow enough if you are looking to read more classical Japanese literature. Yukio Mishima was born into a samurai family, imbued with the code of complete control and loyalty to the emperor, which clearly comes across in his many other novels. Spring Snow is the first book in The Sea of Fertility tetralogy and, shockingly, Mishima committed ritual suicide when he had finished writing this series. I will certainly be reading more Mishima this year, and Spring Snow is a very good place to start if you have not come across his work before.