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Death in Midsummer and Other stories by…

Death in Midsummer and Other stories (1992)

by Yukio Mishima, Yukio Mishima

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
There are only a couple of stories that really moved me, but one of them, called "Patriotism" I think, about a Japanese officer and his wife committing ritual suicide, is simply astounding. It's worth reading the rest of the book just for that one, without doubt. ( )
  blake.rosser | Jul 28, 2013 |
I was rather hesitant to pick up this collection of short stories or read the title story because several private individuals had already reviewed the story (on Wikipedia and their own personal blogs), where they declared the collection misogynist, along with Mishima himself. It's a pity that so many people will air their snap judgements about stories and their biases about writers without (actually reading) the stories and still expect to be acknowledged. Regardless, I didn't agree with their bizarre and unsubstantiated theses, that Mishima was a misogynist or that all homosexuals are misogynists, either. Honest reviewers should always leave such illusions in the dust where they belong and instead seek to understand the work at hand.

I found this collection of nine stories and a one-act play to be far more structurally and thematically representative of the overall work of Yukio Mishima than was (Acts of Worship).

Like Jack London, Mishima excelled at the short story. He published some 200 short stories in 20-years, won some awards, and influenced subsequent generations of Japanese writers not to write like him in order to escape his crushing influence. It is also in the short story where the old Mishima writing formula was most clearly evident: perfect, unblemished, beautiful imagery, decorated sporadically with humour, told with subtly and great control, and which is all decisively cut and diced by Mishima's razor-like interjections and catastrophes. On the surface, Mishima's belief in the superiority of youth over the decadence of the aged can easily be read, for instance in "Three Million Yen." Likewise can be discovered was Mishima’s fascination for the subtle and sinister inner-motives of human beings that viciously worked against the grain of clearly established social mores, e.g. "Onnagata," "The Priest of Shiga Temple," and "The Pearl." However, all his stories have a deeper and over-arching meaning.

Like many postwar Japanese writers, Mishima's stories ultimately tell of the destruction of an idealized pre-1945 Japan and the ruins (physical, psychological, and existential) that the Japanese people have lived in since their surrender to the Americans (militarily, nationally, and culturally). The delirious dancer of "Dojoji," the couple from "Three Million Yen" and from "Thermos Bottles" are all golems born of the postwar era, their emotions unchecked, their material and spiritual needs unsatisfied. The mother that nourished these characters, pre-war Japan, is no more. The umbilical cord has long been severed and the breast milk is gone, and, now, suddenly forced into weaning they lash out and destroy in vain for what once was. Mishima's characters destroy and ruin the things and people around them, even if what they destroy are their loved ones or themselves, because for him life in a postwar Japan without spiritual meaning and purpose was a life not worth living.

Such words and ideas were as relevant in the Japan of Mishima's life as they were after the Tohoku Earthquake. After that catastrophe, many Japanese, who were already enduring a two-decades long recession, openly spoke out about the excessive consumer/consumption culture in Japan, including ex-Mishima friend and ex-Mishima critic Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara.

Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on two of the finer short stories in this collection:

* "Death in Midsummer" is a clear and effective psychological study of maternal grief. Tomoko Ikuda has lost two of her three young children through no fault of her own. However, along with feelings of maternal devastation, she feels a lingering sense of survivor guilt. Her responses to that guilt highlight two contradictions in human nature: while we might punish and hate ourselves forever in this case, the basic human instinct for survival fights that feeling, that cultural construct. Tomoko tries to move on, tries to get over the death of her children, but, as Mishima shows us, no one can.

* "Patriotism" is the vivid story of Lt. Shinji Takeyama, a recent newlywed, and a man whose survivor guilt, in the immediate wake of the Ni Ni Roku Incident (a chaotic period of political crisis, a crisis of national identity, military extremism, and starvation throughout the countryside in the face of legislative lethargy), invokes his sense of duty or "patriotism" and leads him and his young wife to ritual suicide. Symbolism and romantic idealism play an integral role of this story of a Tristan and Isolde who cannot live without the other, much less in a world they felt was going to hell in a hand-basket. Life without meaning, purpose, and spiritual value = no life worth living at all. Controversial now, but dismissed in 1960s—until Mishima himself committed seppuku, and after which stigmatized, Patriotism is a striking, grisly, and yet eerie love story. Contrived in some passages, yes, but it's a landmark, and underneath that status it's a unique and intense story; like looking straight at the Sun.

As a side note: even though I've now read all the Yukio Mishima novels, essays, short story collections, and even some films that are available in English, it's still too early for me to pass judgement on him as a writer. Why? Well, it's because the number of his works that are available in English add up only to a fraction of total his corpus. Next step: Japanese fluency.

[One Thumb Up, if you're looking for something easy and interesting to read.]

[Two Thumbs Up, if you're interested in Yukio Mishima and serious Japanese literature.]
1 vote GYKM | Sep 28, 2012 |
Though Mishima's best work, I believe, is to be found in the novel form, this collection of short stories has much to offer, though the quality tends to vary. I can't even remember the plot or characters of "Three Million Yen". "Swaddling Clothes" is wrought with redundant thoughts on the part of the main character, with the last few lines being the only real interesting bit of a rather static narrative. On the other hand, "Death in Midsummer" is a brooding portrait of maternal loss, with a tone that is as brooding and oppressive as the crashing waves that feature in the story as a sort of natural antagonist. "The Priest at Shiga Temple and His Love" is a striking portrait of idolatry, and inversely, enlightenment.

Finally, Patriotism is a visceral depiction of ritual suicide where Mishima's creates images so powerful that they struggle to transgress the bounds of text and transport themselves onto canvas. Despite the subject of the story and the severity with which it is handled, is it at heart a story of the great love and devotion that a wife has for her husband. This is Mishima's best short story, and it may even surpass a good number of his novels in terms of craft, imagery, and sheer emotional depth. This collection is essential for that one piece alone. ( )
  poetontheone | Nov 26, 2010 |
Mishima began my love of Japanese literature, especially short stories. Japanese literature has a refreshing vein of naturalism and mysticism, and Mishima's stories are prime examples. I used some of his stories to teach themes to tenth graders (especially the rain one, with the rain outside, the water in the fountain, the tears on the girl's face, etc). He's a brilliant short story writer. I also enjoyed his other collection, Acts of Worship. ( )
  amandacb | Mar 19, 2010 |
A collection of short stories, all set in 20th century Japan, and including one with a long and graphic celebration of seppeku - the ritual suicide emulated by the author 4 years after publication of this book. His short story technique is fine - the characters and stories are quickly created and capture the reader's interest. But I was a little disappointed in the content and setting - few belong to the ordinary world of ordinary people. Mishima seems to have been happier in an imaginary hyper-Japanese world of geisha and affected manners. Read November 2009. ( )
  mbmackay | Nov 27, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
"In this collection of nine short stories and one work that the author describes as a 'modern No play,' Yukio Mishima unfolds to English-language readers a fuller range of his talents as he explores a variety of pathways into the complex Japanese personality."
added by GYKM | editNew York Times, Robert Trumbull (pay site) (May 1, 1966)

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yukio Mishimaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mishima, Yukiomain authorall editionsconfirmed
Keene, DonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, IvanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sargent, Geoffrey W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seidensticker, Edward G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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