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The most internationally acclaimed Japanese author of the twentieth century, Yukio Mishima (1925–70) was a prime candidate for the Nobel Prize. But the prolific author shocked the world in 1970 when he attempted a coup d'état that ended in his suicide by ritual disembowelment. In this radically new analysis of Mishima's extraordinary life, Damian Flanagan deviates from the stereotypical depiction of a right-wing nationalist and aesthete, presenting the author instead as a man in thrall to the modern world while also plagued by hidden neuroses and childhood trauma that pushed him toward his explosive final act.

Flanagan argues that Mishima was a man obsessed with the concepts of time and "emperor," and reveals how these were at the heart of his literature and life. Untangling the distortions in the writer's memoirs, Flanagan traces the evolution of Mishima's attempts to master and transform his sexuality and artistic persona. While often perceived as a solitary protest figure, Mishima, Flanagan shows, was very much in tune with postwar culture―he took up bodybuilding and became a model and actor in the 1950s, adopted the themes of contemporary political scandals in his work, courted English translators, and became influenced by the student protests and hippie subculture of the late 1960s. A groundbreaking reevaluation of the author, this succinct biography paints a revealing portrait of Mishima's life and work.

*This is a book discussion, not a book talk; the author will not be present. We encourage attendees to read the book in advance, but all are welcome to attend regardless. We ask that only those who have read the title share their views during the first ~45 minutes of the discussion, after which all are welcome to discuss the book or broader aspects of Mishima's life and times.

Damian Flanagan is an award-winning author and translator who has written widely on Japanese politics, arts, and society. He is the author of several books, including The Tower of London: Tales of Victorian London.

Discussion will be led by RAS secretary John Van Fleet, whose career includes 10 years in Japan. Van Fleet is a regular reviewer for the Asian Review of Books and a reviewer/contributor for the Journal of International Business Education. His first book, Tales of Old Tokyo, was published in 2015.

Upcoming book club events:


May 6th: From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia by Pankaj Mishra

June 3rd: Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age by Stephen R. Platt


April 22nd: Red Poppies by Alai

May 20th: I Did Not Kill My Husband by Liu Zhenyun

June 17th: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata