I was very excited to read Confessions of a Mask when it was my book club's pick earlier this year, but when I got through it, I was happier with the fact that the book was finished than the fact that I had finished the book. This is a semi-autobiographical novel (in that parts of the protagonist's life mirror the author's) about a young man coming to terms with his probably-homosexual identity during WWII-era Japan. Given this fact, and the raciness of some scenes, it is pretty shocking to imagine this book coming out (no pun intended) right after the war both in Japan, and here in the USA.
The narrator starts his story at a very age, highlighting certain elements of his upbringing that helped shape his identity. These include being very sickly and living with an overbearing grandmother, to being firmly reprimanded for being caught wearing a woman's clothes and make-up. As he progresses, he always feels "different" from the boys around him, but can't figure out why. He's a bit of a loner, and once he hits puberty, begins to have very violent fantasies about boys and men (by boys, I mean boys his own age). It's these fantasies that keep this novel out of high schools. While nothing is too graphic, there are scenes where he dwells on fantasies that involve cannibalism, blood and guts, etc. In a way, it is interesting to see the sublimation of sexual desires in a character who doesn't understand how to express his true feelings, and instead turns to allegorical fantasies involving piercing tied up soldiers with swords.
As this all takes place in a militaristic and nationalistic Japan that's at war, it's fascinating to see how such a setting shapes the way people's unconscious minds work. The protagonist finds himself in a courtship of his friend's sister, but doesn't know what his feelings are towards her. It is all a very sad, moving portrait of a man who is wearing a mask not only towards outside society, but also himself when he tries to look into the mirror of self-reflection, as he cannot figure out how to deal with his feelings towards this woman. The novel ends on a very ambiguous note (will he ever come to terms with himself or his desires?), which is further confused by the fact that the narrator tells his story as if from some future time.
This is a very strange and hard-to-decipher story, given its era of production and the fact that it is in translation. I am unsure if parts were lost in translation, or if the last chunk of the novel is meant to be as opaque as it comes across. Either way, this novel is a part of history due to its content for its time and place, and can be appreciated on that level.