​A Modern Classic: Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima 

TW: There will be mention of suicide.


A while back I started to read up on Japanese literature for my World Tour of Books post series. Eventually I picked a book by Kenzaburo Oe but there was another writer I could not get off my mind: Yukio Mishima. 

This beloved Japanese writer became infamous in 1970. Seeing that Japanese Traditionalism was being replaced by Western values with all its empty materialism, he attempted to incite a coup d’état along with his own private militia. But the attempt failed miserably and, dishonoured, he killed himself by seppuku.

Many believed his motives to have been genuine. But others saw in his actions a sign of psychosis. Yet others believed that Mishima had always planned for the coup to fail so that he could end his own life, this due to his disgust with the idea of getting old. Which reminds me of a quote that stood out to me in Forbidden Colours:

“What is the death of the body, after all, compared with the unbearable death of youth?”

But whatever his motivations were, there is so much more to Mishima than him being “that Japanese writer who killed himself like a samurai”. Three times he was nominated to the Nobel Prize in literature and during his career he would publish 25 novels and write 80 plays. He also starred in movies, became a skilled martial artist and a bodybuilder and even directed his own film. 

Seeing what a fascinating man this Yukio Mishima was, I felt I had to read something of him. I picked the novel Forbidden Colours, I must confess mainly due to its gay theme. 

In retrospect I should have started my journey into Mishima’s literature with the semi-autobriographical Confessions of a Mask but Forbidden Colours was still an amazing read.

Telling the story of Yuichi Minami (notice the resemblance with the author’s own name) it is believe to be also somewhat autobiographical. One summer he meets an elderly writer by the name of Shunsuké who in his books praises women but in reality despises them. His hatred stems from his numerous failed relationships and in his bitterness he wishes to punish women. 

In Yuichi he finds the perfect tool for this. The young man’s unusual beauty catches the opposite sex’s attention without effort and his homosexuality ensures that he will never reciprocate any woman’s feelings. Under the guidance/manipulation of Shunsuké he marries a woman, trapping her in a loveless marriage. He also charms two other women, making them fall in love with him but never loving them back.

But Yuichi will grow weary of being Shunsuké’s puppet and will realise his own power, much to the elderly writer’s dismay. 

What can I say about this book? Because it is not simply a story written down, it is a work of art. Filled with meaning boiling below the surface, it grabs your mind and demands attention. It is both beautiful and sort of ugly in its descriptions. The way the author writes about the characters’ inner life is moving but also disturbing at times. 

Shunsuké especially is a quite dislikable personality, with all his selfishness and bitterness. Yuichi is more sympathetic but he too grows cold with time. Melancholy is the word that springs to mind when I think about the spirit of the book. Hopelessness also. But somehow Mishima knew how to make the tragic beautiful. 

Forbidden Colours is considered to be one of Yukio Mishima’s lesser works and if it is then I can’t wait to read those books of his that are seen as masterpieces. Either way, I am definitely not done with his literature. 

​A World Tour of Books: The Dhammapada (India)

At the end of last year I was feeling pretty down. Personal health issues and the election of Trump had made me start to lose hope. To try and find some peace I took up praticing daily meditation again. It is through my renewed interest in this practice I would come across writings on Buddhism and quickly become fascinated with this ancient philosophy and religion.

Buddhism was, it is said, founded by a prince by the name of Siddharta Gautama sometimes between the sixth and fourth century B.C. Distraught by the endless suffering of humanity, he sought to find a way to end it. 

He saw that much of the pain we experience is due to something called tanhā. This Pali word is often translated as desire in English but is more correctly described as thirst or greed. To stop suffering we must therefore extinguish our tanhā and let go of the unnecessary cravings that weight us down. 

As a help to achieve this goal the Buddha showed what is in Buddhism called the eightfold path and consists of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right concentration, right effort and right mindfulness. According to Buddhism, if we follow the example of the Buddha and walk down this path we can achieve enlightenment and the end of suffering. 

Whether Buddhism is a religion or more of a philosophy has been up to debate. Some, often Westerners who identify as secular Buddhists, are adamant that is was always meant to be only a philosophy. But the early texts of Buddhism, amongst them The Dhammapada, have many references to such things as heaven, hell, demons, and reincarnation so it seems to me that it was initially meant to be a religion. 

But just as a anyone, not only Christians, can find wisdom in some of the sayings of Jesus of Nazareth, even those who do not believe in anything supernatural can learn something from the ancient  Buddhist writings. This why I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Dhammapada.

Originally written in Pali and containing 423 verses, The Dhammapada is a collections of sayings attributed to the Buddha himself. It is a short book but full of unvaluable wisdom. 

How do you live a happy life? How do you find peace and serenity within yourself? What is the proper way to treat other beings? These are questions most people will ask themselves at one point or another. The teachings of the Buddha have life-changing advice on these issues. 

More than 2000 years after it was first written down, The Dhammapada is a still as beautiful a piece of writing as it was then. Its words are timeless and it’s lessons more valuable than anything money can buy. 

P.S. Since it is such an old book it has no copyright and you can actually get it for free both as an ebook on Open Library and as an audiobook through Librivox.  

Am I writing it or is it writing itself?

I remember a school trip I went on when I was around 14. It was at a renown art museum in my birth town Gothenburg. A tour guide showed us around and before telling us more about the different artworks she would ask what we thought about it. What did we think it meant? Did it have a message and if so, what was it? 

There was one painting in particular that intrigued me. In it was a man working on the statue of a woman. But the statue seemed to have come to life and was touching the sculptor’s arm.

The tour guide asked if we thought there was some sort of symbolism in that. Since opening my mouth back then was often an excuse for the other kids to mock my accent and speech impediment, I didn’t say anything. I also assumed someone would say what I thought was obvious. But no one said anything like it. Their interpretations varied from “it hurts and she’s telling him to stop” to “she’s in love with her creator and she’s flirting with him.”

I don’t know why I wanted so to point out what I believed the painting meant but I did it anyway. I raised my hand and said something like: “I think it’s symbolic of the creative process. With her hand, the statue guides him. When you make art sometimes it feels like that. Like it wants to exist and shows you how to bring it into existence.”

The other kids looked at me like I was insane and I immediately regretted not keeping my mouth shut. But the image on that painting really stuck with me. In the last week or so I have thought about it a lot.

I am now almost done writing the second part of my Sorcerer’s Sword series. I have the ending of the story laid out and just have to write it down. For now I’m mostly writing by hand because it helps my thoughts flow and also because my laptop is still in repairs. But when I get it back it will not be too long before I’ll be able to publish my new book.

In a sense it feels like the story has already revealed itself to me and I just need to make it come to life. It has been an interesting journey and often it felt like I was walking through a labyrinth, trying to map it all out with nothing but a faintly glowing light guiding me.

Of course I know rationally that the story was never something outside of myself. It was never a conscious, mystical thing whispering itself into my ear. It just feels that way. 

Whenever I write fiction it seems after a while that it takes on a life on its on. Most often than not it turns out into something quite different from what I originally thought it would. When I was younger that used to annoy me. I wanted to have more control over my own creations. But whenever I tried to it made the resulting story less genuine, almost mechanical. So eventually I stopped fighting it and I let the art become what it becomes. 

In a way it makes things more interesting. Now writing a piece of work feels more like going on a journey and I can never be entirely sure where it will take me. Hopefully my readers will find reading my book as exciting as it was for me to write it.