The image is explained by the fact the book has a white cover… oh well. This book was presented to me as an example of Japanese literature. Being described as ‘Nabokovian’ too, perhaps as a method of convincing me to try.
Shinji, a lieutenant in the Japanese army, arrives home to inform his wife that his friends have become mutineers. Due to his position in the army, he has been ordered to lead the attack against them.
Unwilling to slaughter his friends, Shinji decides that he must commit seppuku, and informing his wife of this, his wife decides to join him.
The book describes the last night the couple spend together before taking part in their mutually agreed upon ritual suicide.
The tension of the book was felt throughout, with the reader and characters being made fully aware of what was to come.
The whole feel of the short story is intense, and the attitude with which the characters face their death is with both bravery and sorrow.
The book is very well written for one so short. The writer manages to raise so many questions about the choices made by the characters. Their seemingly mundane activities before the event being doing with a gruesome level of normality. The act itself being described so graphically that you can almost feel it.
Being from a Western culture, the act of seppuku can often be quite staggering. When faced with the ‘honourable’ thing to do in battle, most Western armies agree to die by the hand of the enemy. In fact, deserting is a serious offence, and in the examples such as WW1, returning to safety meant returning to the gunfire of your previous allies.
In Japan, however, it seems more honourable to die by your own hands in the ritualistic way than to allow your enemies victory. It’s quite the opposite in terms of an ‘honourable death’ to what we expect, and so as a reflex the reaction is often one of disagreement: how can suicide be brave?
Yet strangely to myself, I felt that the way Shinji approached the event was certainly brave. The cold, sharp steel being just a fact to face up to. I don’t think I could do it… a slow and bloody death by a blade.
Overall the book was fantastic for it’s length. The author himself also dying by seppuku lends it a somewhat prophetic title and characteristic too.