Runaway Horses

Translation: Michael Gallagher


The second installment in the The Sea of Fertility [Hōjō no Umi] tetralogy by Yukio Mishima. The novel is set in the 1930s – with the main protagonist, Isao, a young boy raised up by his conservatist, right-winged father. Under his influence he starts to delve in radical ideology himself and plans a bloody coup-d’etat, in his opinion the only wat to cleanse filthy Japan. Shigekuni Honda who currently works as a judge in Osaka, sees in Isao glimpses of his dead friend, Kiyoaki, main hero of the first novel: Spring Snow. Politics, ideologies, reincarnation, purity and youthful enthusiasm are the topics that we can find in Runaway Horses.

Tetralogy, or four volumes published under the joint title Hōjō no Umi (Mare Fecunditatis, The Sea of Fertility, one of the lunar “seas”, or darker spots, or rather plains, on the surface of the moon) is the work of Yukio Mishima’s life. He wrote these novels from 1964 to 1970 – it is said that when he finished the last one, he was ready to carry out his military coup, and if necessary, commit suicide.

In his farewell letter to the world, Mishima was to write: “Life is limited, and I would like to live forever (限りある命ならば永遠に生きたい)”. He himself reportedly did not believe in reincarnation, although reading the Tetralogy one might get a different impression. The series of successive incarnations ties the plot of four volumes together, and one of the characters, whose eyes we follow the story by, finds traces of his deceased friend in various, often surprising characters. If you had fun with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, then be sure to challenge this classic.

You often ask us whether the Tetralogy can be read not in sequence – in our opinion, it can, because each of the novels is completely different. Spring Snow is a coming-of-age novel and the most tragic love story you’ll find in Japanese literature; Runaway Horses – political thriller; The Temple of Dawn will take you to Siam, for an audience with a Thai princess, and the closing series The Decay of Angel is a more metaphysical drama, a story about fascination and passing away. And in any of these genres, Mishima’s talent, of course, does not disappoint.

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