Kokoro, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (1 rating)

Description

Natsume Soseki's importance to Japanese literature can be compared to that of Dickens to Britain or Henry James to America.

Like these writers, his work now holds a hugely popular and important place in the literary imagination of his country.

Unlike them, his work is only recently coming to the attention of readers from overseas. "Kokoro" joins the recent publications of "The Gate", "The Tower of London" and "the Three Cornered World" from Peter Owen as part of an international programme to bring one of Japan's best known authors to a new English speaking audience.

As Damian Flanagan says in his new critical introduction "Kokoro" is the Soseki novel that has been given most attention by critics and the public in Japan.

On one level, a meditation on the changing face of Japanese culture and its attitudes to honour, friendship, love, death, it is also a sly subversion of all of these things.

The novel centres around the friendship between the narrator and the man he calls Sensei, who is haunted by mysterious events in his past.

As the friendship grows and the narrator gets to know more about the man he so admires he is increasingly intrigued by this hidden history.The Sensei, however, refuses to reveal anything until the third part of the book when the narrator is called away to look after his sick father and the truth is revealed in tragic circumstances, etching itself onto the narrator - and the reader's - "Kokoro" : Heart.

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Kokoro is a beautifully written story with a deep underlying sadness of a young man who befriends a mysterious mentor with a troubled past, which isn't revealed until after the narrator travel home to care for his dying father. This is a story of relationships and the decisions we make that can forever alter those bonds. This is novel about longing for a past we can't have, even if it causes us so much pain.It's easy to tell that Natsume Soseki was concerned with themes of isolation, especially loneliness resulting from the rapid social changes during the Meiji Period of Japan, when Japan was rapidly adapting technology and the cultural customs of western countries. It's hard for me to relate to, but I think there are some similarities to today with how the internet has changed the dynamics of how people relate to one another. While being more and more connected in every way we are still interfacing with a screen isolated from the outside, creating a new kind of loneliness.There's also a lot to take away from this novel as historic piece of work. One being that no western novel of the same period could ever sustain the kind of avoidance and mystery of the past for so long. By applying to the very traditional Japanese custom of discretion Soseki manages to create an atmosphere of suspense in what amounts to a slow plodding character driven novel. The other is that Meiji Period must have been very hard for much of the older and more traditional Japanese to adjust to. Ever society has a period of immense change in its history, but I get a sense that this was especially traumatic for a society like Japan that had been closed to the outside for long. A very worthwhile look at the affects of the Meiji Period.

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