Monday 17 February 2020

Book Review: Kokoro by Natsume Soseki (Classics)

Title: Kokoro
Author: Natsume Soseki
Penguin Classics

Publication Date: 2010 (1914)
Birthday Gift


No collection of Japanese literature is complete without Natsume Soseki's Kokoro, his most famous novel and the last he completed before his death in 1916. Published here in the first new translation in more than fifty years, Kokoro—meaning "heart"—is the story of a subtle and poignant friendship between two unnamed characters, a young man and an enigmatic elder whom he calls "Sensei". Haunted by tragic secrets that have cast a long shadow over his life, Sensei slowly opens up to his young disciple, confessing indiscretions from his own student days that have left him reeling with guilt, and revealing, in the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between his moral anguish and his student's struggle to understand it, the profound cultural shift from one generation to the next that characterized Japan in the early twentieth century.

Kokoro is an amazing work that I devoured over two nights, loving every minute of it. The style of this book is different from Botchan (an earlier work of Soseki's I've read), but I liked this darker approach even more. The language flows in what is clearly an excellent translation, and the prose is simplistic and beautiful yet deep. This is tale of what can spring from inaction, and the difficulties of explaining our feelings to ourselves, let alone to others. I got caught up in the characters right from the start, especially the intriguing relationship between the narrator and Sensei. Having enjoyed two (very different) works by Soseki now, I am keen to read more. Kokoro is definitely one that will stay with me for a long time.

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