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Mishima: A Biography Paperback – April 4, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Subsequent edition (April 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030680977X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306809774
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #908,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Compelling reading...a study of the whole man, in all his volcanic complexity." -- Christian Science Monitor

"The most intimate and brilliant portrait of a Japanese ever achieved by a westerner." -- Philadelphia Bulletin

About the Author

John Nathan, the Takashima Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has translated the novels of both Yukio Mishima and the Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oë. He recently published Sony, a portrait of the giant Japanese corporation.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Prof. John Nathan, the first American to graduate from the prestigious Tokyo University, offers his insight and brilliant observations based on his extensive research and personal accounts of his interaction with the enigmatic Japanese author. This book is a much more coherent account of the psyche of the tortured soul than any other biography published about him simply because he is able to position himself into finding information about Mishima's secretive past by interviewing Mishima's associates using his close ties with the inner circles of Japanese culture. A must read for people who are interested in understanding the darker and the one of the most spectacularly secretive side of Japanese literature.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By B. M. Chapman on August 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
The moment that convinced me to buy this biography was in the introduction when John Nathan mentions that he not only translated one of Mishima's novels and knew his works better than most non-Japanese, but that he also spent time with Mishima in such pursuits as arm wrestling and running huge bills at posh restaurants. Here is a biography written with subjective experience and great attempt at historical objectivity. A year after Mishima's suicide, John Nathan received passive permission from his widow to write a biography. Allowed access to his parents and friends, Nathan tells a story of a very curious and passionate man from a very personal perspective.
But, with the case of a man who not only founded his own private army and obsessively bulked up his skinny body, but also wrote thirty-five novels, a dozen plays, and over four hundred essays and short stories, it is hard to write about such a visible life that was based on such deep thoughts and ideas. Nathan uses copious excerpts from Mishima's writings, sometimes translated by himself, that the biography leaves the reader satisfied that Mishima the author, the man who sought to resolve his contradictions of life with words, is given justice in his frequent quoting.
It is a great summary of Mishima's life. Though admittedly the best way to get into the mind of Mishima is to read his own works, and this biography knows it. The story of his suicide and reasons for it is told exceedingly well and adds great insight into the mentality of Mishima and how it changed over the decades. Though Nathan tries to postulate theories about Mishima and Japanese society like many authors seem obsessed to do when writing about Japan, it does not weigh down the story of Mishima's life, and the shining enigma it was.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Henry Platte on April 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
In his introduction, Nathan admits that Mishima would probably be furious that these facts regarding his life had been brought to light. Though it is debtable whether he was arrogant or only proud, sensitive to other people or contemptous of them, Mishima certainly seemed to have very little interest in being understood, and had a carefully crafted public image. I think, though, that if there has to be a biography, we could hardly hope for a better one.
Nathan knew Mishima personally, and his occasional self-referencing serves to make the account more relatable, instead of stealing attention from Mishima. He approaches the subject as humbly as possible, both in regard to Japanese culture, as a westerner, and in regard to Mishima, in trying to reserve judgment. Mishima's actions may be difficult to understand, and it would be all too tempting to describe them as bizzare or wrong, but Nathan slips up on very few occasions (near the end, he does say something in reference to Mishima's suicide along the lines of, 'otherwise, it must seem a terrible waste' -bleah). His sincere desire to understand is evident. Of course, intention alone doesn't make a good biography; 'Mishima' is also liberally packed with information, highlighting incidents which must have had an influence on Mishima's work, reproduced passages from his earliest, unpublished stories, and the views of family members and friends. His occasional attempts to analyze Mishima's work are also interesting, and he never seems to overstep his bounds (as, say, Walter Kauffman does with Nietzsche); his verdict is always tentative and presented as only one man's opinion. 'Mishima' succeeds as both a straightforward biography for anyone who wants the facts, and a sensitive commentary from someone who had the right to comment.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Angry Mofo on October 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
Once you've read a couple of books by Yukio Mishima, it is inevitable that you will be filled with an insatiable desire to learn about the man and try to understand what on earth possessed him to write the way he did. Well, no one knows for sure, but John Nathan has a pretty good idea, and so Mishima: A Biography is the perfect place to start. Be advised that answers don't come easily. Nathan is a Westerner, after all, trying to research a uniquely Japanese and particularly complicated figure, and so some important things will clearly elude him, either lost in some forsaken archive or concealed from him by Mishima's family. However, among Westerners, Nathan is probably the most qualified of all of them to undertake this sort of task - he was a friend of Mishima's for a time, and actually translated some of his works. He doesn't undermine his credibility with gushing praise or half-baked theorizing - for the most part, he does stick to the facts, and the facts do seem to illustrate the conclusions he draws. And what a slew of facts there is! I tore through this book, hungrily devouring episode after episode of the life of an exceptional, charismatic man who, at least for a time, lived life exactly the way he wanted to.
However, I wanted to gain insight into the relevance Mishima's works had to his life, and while I gained some, it wasn't as much as I had hoped to gain. Nathan's reluctance to waste his and your time with unsubstantiated notions is admirable, but unfortunately he often neglects Mishima's literature in his biography.
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