Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

After the Banquet

After the Banquet is the last book in my self-declared “Japanese Literature challenge”.  I have read Mishima before, but it was ten years ago.  Also, it is sometimes difficult to read very famous authors with very famous deaths without having the author’s personality in the back of your mind as you read.  And Mishima is a very interesting character to have bouncing about in your head…

(FYI: Yukio Mishima was one of Japan’s most famous and beloved writer, artist, actor, director – basically a premiere artist.  He lived the flashy, full life of the avant-garde artist until he, with a small conservative political group, attempted a coup d’etat to restore the Japanese emperor to real (instead of symbolic) power.  When it failed he committed seppuku).

Moving on to the actual story- the story begins as Kazu, the middle-aged owner of a restaurant is walking in her garden.  Kazu is successful because she works hard, is friendly and gregarious, and has made her own way in the world without assistance.  She is charming and, from the first, I liked her.  Kazu holds a small banquet at her restaurant for some retired ambassadors – it is here that she meets Noguchi.

The courtship between  Kazu and Noguchi is awkward, but sincere.  These two are so unalike that I was at first unsure why an attraction ever developed.  Kazu’s vivaciousness is countered by Noguchi’s reserve and more “old-fashioned” ways.  There is no question of a passionate love- Kazu and Noguchi are no longer young and inexperienced- the attraction is a combination of extreme loneliness and a genuine regard brought about by admiring someone completely opposite to yourself.

Once she was married to Noguchi, Kazu at first attempts to keep her restaurant open, but finds it too difficult to be both a proprietress and a wife.  However, Kazu was too energetic to do nothing- soon she funnels all of her energy into a political campaign for Noguchi.  Noguchi loses the election, but not before Mishima gives a scathing description of the various campaign tricks and back-handed manipulations involved in Japanese political campaigns.

Mishima displays very well the collision course of two disparate personalities.  Noguchi’s loss proves a catalyst for the dissolution of his and Kazu’s marriage.  Kazu, who for a time lost herself to her husband’s wishes and aspirations, breaks free.  She decides that being lonely is not enough of an excuse for denying her true self.  The catharsis she felt at the end of the novel, as she is rebuilding her business and once again walking through her garden, was also felt by myself as I read it.

After the Banquet is excellent.  This book connected with me far more than one of those novels that really try too hard by giving the characters some roller-coaster ride of emotion.  I connected to Kazu.  She is charming, but constantly worrying and over thinking.  She is successful because of her own hard work.  She sometimes shows too much enthusiasm or passion, but she is sincere and never lets anyone else make her feel like she is lesser for it.  I felt a sinking in my stomach as I read of Kazu repressing her nature for her husband.  I thought that the end was inevitable- but Kazu surprised me with her refusal to be put into a box.

This novel can be read just for the excellent character of Kazu alone.  The salacious description of Japanese politics and the sad portrait of a marriage is just a bonus.

japanese painting -garden

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