The Sound of Waves

Author: Yukio Mishima
Translators: Meredith Weatherby
U.S. publisher: Putnam Books
ISBN: 9780399504877
Released: January 1981
Original release: 1954
Awards: Shincho Prize

In 1956, The Sound of Waves became the first of Yukio Mishima’s works to be published in English. The translation was done by Meredith Weatherby, who also translated Mishima’s novel Confessions of a Mask. Having been previously impressed by Mishima’s The Sea of Fertility tetralogy, I looked forward to reading more of his work. I had actually intended to read Confessions of a Mask next, but recently I had seen several references made to The Sound of Waves in my other reading and so I decided to read it first. Originally written in 1954, The Sound of Waves quickly became one of Mishima’s most popular successes and remains so today. The book also received the first Shincho Prize to be awarded by Shinchosa Publishing, also in 1954. According to John Nathan’s biography Mishima, The Sound of Waves was inspired in part by the early Greek story of Daphnis and Chloe.

Shinji Kubo is eighteen years old and recently graduated from high school. He has lived in a small fishing village on Uta-jima, “Song Island,” his entire life. Shinji has no particular plans to leave—currently he helps support both his widowed mother and younger brother—but he’d like to master his own boat in the future. And then Hatsue returns to the island. The daughter of one of the village’s most successful and wealthy inhabitants who has declared that he will adopt her suitor into his family, she has caught the eye of many of the young men. Shinji, too, has taken an interest in Hatsue, although unlike most of his opportunistic fellows, he has genuinely fallen in love with her and she seems to share his feelings. But their budding romance is cut short when vicious gossip about the two of them is spread throughout the village and her father forbids them from seeing each other.

The Sound of Waves, like Mishima’s other works, features beautiful descriptions of nature, the scenery, and in this particular case, the sea. The book really has a wonderful and lovely sense and feel of place. The portrayal of the idyllic fishing village and its people as well as their importance to Shinji is what gives the novel its driving force. Sometimes life in a small village where everyone knows your business and rumors can destroy a person can be difficult, but it can also be a source of tremendous support when the people pull together to champion one of their own. In The Sound of Waves, Mishima captures these conflicting qualities in a very convincing and genuine way. In fact, this was probably the thing I liked most about the novel, even more than the actual love story.

I was really not expecting a happy ending from Mishima—apparently, The Sound of Waves is one of the few examples of this in his work—the story is suffused with a sense of joy and life. The book is certainly more approachable than The Sea of Fertility and I can easily understand why the story is so popular. The plot is a straightforward coming of age love story, and although it’s not as complex or mature as some of his other works, it is still an enjoyable and charming tale. While free from the gut-wrenching twist I’ve come to expect from Mishima, The Sound of Waves still reminded me of his other novels, The Decay of the Angel in particular, and things aren’t always easy for the protagonists even if it all more or less works out in the end. Some of these similarities may be the result of Mishima’s tendency to incorporate autobiographical elements into his novels. Although The Sound of Waves didn’t affect me as profoundly as The Sea of Fertility, I still found the novel to be thoroughly enjoyable and I continue to look forward to reading more of Mishima’s work.

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