This is the third book in the "Sea of fertility" tetralogy by Yukio Mishima, although I found that out after I grabbed the book of the library shelf & ran to check it out, before anyone else got their grubby little mitts on it. The novel is in two parts & in part one, the book's main character "Honda" is in Bangkok working as legal counsel for a drugs company. Through him we learn a fair bit about Bangkok, for example "Bang" means town & "Kok" means olives, named because it has many olive trees in its vicinity & this became it's name in the Ayutthaya dynasty. Although a few pages later we find out that Bangkok's real name is actually " Krung thep phra mahanakorn amon latanakosin mahintara shiayutthaya mafma pop noppala rachatthani prilom" ( you can imagine how my spell-check loved that ) & that this name is almost impossible to translate, though that doesn't stop them trying, it has something to do with "The capital, a 9 coloured diamond, a large city & it being pleasant". Back to the story, Honda visited a few temples including The Temple of Dawn & the ornate flowery sumptuous architecture made a deep impression on him. He mentions to his guide that he went to school with 2 Siamese princes, the guide (who he dislikes quite vehemently) tries to arrange a reunion but the princes aren't in the country, so he ends up meeting the daughter of one, this daughter (Ying Chan) much to the embarrassment of the family claims to be the reincarnation of a Japanese man & on meeting Honda claims to recognise him, in fact she's the reincarnation of someone from his past (Isao) & demands to go back to Japan with him.
After finishing the case he was working on to the satisfaction of the drug company they offer him a bonus, which he takes in the form of a trip to India in which he visits Benares Manmad& the Ajanta caves, places closely associated with Buddhism. On returning to Bangkok he visits the princess, before returning to Japan just as war is declared with the USA. Back in his homeland, Honda spends all the spare time he has studying Buddhist philosophy & the war appears to have little effect on him, he is so immersed in his studies that even the bombings & burned out buildings have little emotional resonance for him.
"The true meaning of Yuishiki is that that the whole of the world manifests itself now in this very instant. Yet this instantaneous world already dies in the same moment And simultaneously a new one appears. The world which appears one moment is transformed in the following and thus continues on. Everything in the entire world is alaya consciousness."
Part two, traces the changes in Honda's obsession, his theories on reincarnation & how they relate to Ying Chan (through Isao) become conflicted with her as an individual, as she has become a beautiful nubile young woman with no recollection of her past belief. This juxtaposition of the philosophy & physicality of his approach to any contact he has with Ying Chan (or his image of her) follows us through the rest of this chapter. We also learn of Honda's voyeuristic tendencies.
The main theme running through this book seems to be how the changing face of Japanese society & its headlong rush into modernity comes into conflict with its spirituality, this with Mishima's hatred of the westernisation of his country, & with it the perceived destruction of traditional Japanese values appears to play a leading role in his writing.
I've used this analogy before, that books can be like relationships, sometimes you meet someone & you know instantly that you'll be great friends, there's no effort needed, you instantly like everything about that individual. This is not one of those, for a start, there is a whole sections where Honda contemplates on Buddhist text, mythology & history, for example.
"Buddhism suddenly deteriorated in India sometime after the fourth century of the Christian era. It has been rightly said that Hinduism stifled it in its friendly embrace. Like Christianity and Judaism in Judea and Confucianism and Taoism in China, Buddhism had to be exiled from India for it to become a world religion. It was necessary for India to turn to a more primitive folk religion. Hinduism perfunctorily retained the name Buddha in a far corner of its pantheon, where he was preserved as the ninth of the ten avatars of Vishnu. Vishnu is believed to assume ten transfigurations:......" etc.
Although interesting in it's own right, it slightly trips up the storyline. It may even be because I hadn't read the two preceding books (Spring Snow & Runaway Horses) that I felt this way, & that I felt the book didn't really get into its stride until part two, which is set in Japan & concentrates on Honda & his obsessions. but there was something there, something that made me keep reading, that made me want to work through the hard times & now, although the friendship wasn't instant, I feel that it is strong & this may be the first book I've read by Yukio Mishima, it won't be the last.