Spring Snow is the first book of the Mishima’s masterpiece tetralogy Sea of Fertility. I don’t know how it is in Japanese, but I bet it is even more beautiful than its translation. The story is told in vivid detail, you can see the garden of Matsugae family with its cherry blossoms, or the snow falling all the way to the Gesshu Temple when Kiyoaki shuffled through his illness to get to the temple to see Satoko, which I imagine is the most beautiful moment if it ever become a movie.
The Matsugaes was a rich samurai family who lived in an estate which mixed the culture of old Japanese and Western style. The estate was located in Tokyo, and the story is started around 1912 (after Russian-Japanese War), in the closed circle of the imperial court and ancient aristocracy.
Kiyoaki, the only son of Marquis Matsugae, has been sent to Count Ayakura family -a not-so-rich but aristocratic family- when he was still very small, to be raised together with an older daughter of the Ayakura family, Satoko, 2 years older than him, in the hope of learning the elegance of the Ayakuras. Contrary to his father’s hope, Kiyoaki was grown into an overly-sensitive, melancholic, arrogant, and very handsome young man with no enthusiasm and no clear objective in life. His attitude to Satoko was torn between ignorant, hate, and affection. At 18, he didn’t realize that he loved her, although he was sure that she loved him.
Meantime, Shigekuni Honda, his only best friend in school, was a totally different young man, a quiet, composed, rational person, and had made up his mind about his future (he was interested in law). In fact, the only person who find enlightenment in this story was seems to be Honda alone, and, though stubborn as he is, Kiyoaki eventually always turn to Honda for help. Although Honda was sometimes astounded by Kiyoaki’s ignorance, he was very loyal to Kiyoaki and would help him whatever it takes.
The relationship between Kiyoaki and Satoko was getting closer with the help of Tadeshina, an old lady and Satoko’s maid. They met secretly, since Kiyoaki wouldn’t admit to anyone that he liked Satoko.
On the blossom festival in Matsugae estate, Kiyoaki and Satoko had a fight, and in her confusion, Satoko made up her mind to received one of the many wedding proposals offered to her. She accepted the best of all: Prince Harunori, the third son of His Imperial Highness Prince Toin. Kiyoaki, being arrogant, ignored the news and decided not to meet Satoko anymore. Satoko, who finally being rational again, tried to contact Kiyoaki through Tadeshina, but Kiyoaki paid no attention, until one day, the realization dawned on him that he did, in fact, love Satoko. And that was the beginning of the destruction of Kiyoaki. Kiyoaki and Satoko met secretly by the help of Tadeshina, and once, by the help of Honda. Near the betrothal ceremony, Satoko got pregnant. The end, as you guess, is tragic. Depressing. As depressing as the end of the life of Mishima himself: harakiri.
It’s a love story, but not in a sentimental, teary-eyed style.
A must-read, worth to buy. Can’t wait to read the second of the trilogy: Runaway Horses