Kokoro, meaning 'heart', is a tantalising novel about the friendship between a young man and an enigmatic elder whom he calls Sensei.
Set in the early twentieth century, when the death of the emperor Meiji gave way to a new era in Japanese politicial and cultural life, the novel enacts the transition from one generation to the next in the dynamic between Sensei, who is haunted by mysterious events in his past, and the unnamed young man, one of the new generation's elite who will inherit the coming era.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 256 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 23/02/2010
- Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780143106036
- EPUB from £4.79
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by YagamiLight
If you want to understand Japan's cultural, social and ethical transformation during Meiji period, you have to read this book.Oh, and the new translation available at Penguin Press is completely fine.
Review by R_Tomio
Great book. It was such a simple story but I was kept interested as it slowly unfolded as to the reason the Sensei was so withdrawn and untrusting of others. The ending was very thought provoking as well.
Review by banjo123
[Kokoro] was published in 1914 and, according to the introduction to my edition, is considered “one of Japan’s great modern novels.” In a testimony to the strength of [[Natsume Soseki]]’s writing, I found the book to be a page-turner. Oddly, not much happens in the story and all of the characters are pretty drippy. The book focuses on interpersonal relationships and the responsibilities of friendship. Kokoro has a unusual structure. It is divided into two parts. In the first part the narrator describes his friendship with an older man who he calls “Sensei” or teacher. The narrator also chronicles his own father’s serious illness. The narrator has a distant relationship with his parents; who seem to represent a traditional, more rural Japan. Sensei is urbane, but feels empty. It seems bizarre that anyone would cultivate a teacher/student relationship with Sensei, who never does anything. The second half of the book is a letter from Sensei to the narrator. In the letter he gives the back-story and explains his passivity. I read this book right after reading [Norwegian Wood] and was struck by many similar themes. On the back of the book, (translation by Meredith McKinney). Murakami is quoted as saying “Soseki is the representative modern Japanese novelist, a figure of truly national stature.”Definitely a book that made me think. I would highly recommend it.
Review by Niecierpek
It's a classic revered among the Japanese. Even though it did not disappoint me in any way, I must say that I did not enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed books by Kawabata or Tanizaki. Not to mention Murakami, but he is a different era altogether. Kokoro means heart in Japanese, and it stands for not only the physical heart but also for the metaphorical heart of the matter and the spiritual center of being. In the book, it can be taken to mean all of the above, and some aspects of it can even be reminiscent of the Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, which gives it still an additional dimension. It also comes from roughly the same historical period as Poe’s work, the time when Japan was in transition- it started to open itself to the West. Soseki studied and lived in England for some period as well, and it’s reflected in the book where typical and traditional Japanese values and behaviours intermingle with the Western stress on the individual. The book starts slowly and progresses at a languid pace until it suddenly develops towards the end and then it gathers great speed and is as unstoppable as a freight train. An interesting read altogether, but I doubt it will ever become my favourite.
Review by kant1066
This novel, one of Natsume Soseki’s last and written on the cusp of Japan’s epochal rise to becoming a world power, reflects the author’s preoccupation with conflicting cultural attitudes in the transition from the feudalist Late Tokugawa Shogunate to the capitalist, more modernized Japan it would become during the Meiji Restoration. Of course, this period wasn’t just marked with bureaucratic, political, and military reforms; it also trickled down into the personal lives, families, and friendships, and this intensely personal impact is what Soseki looks at here.“Kokoro” tells the story of a narrator who sees a man walking down a beach one day; he eventually befriends this man who we only come to know as “Sensei.” The development of their relationship and growing friendship forms the first part of the book’s tripartite structure. The narrator repeatedly emphasizes his own naiveté in contrast with the worldliness and cynicism of Sensei. Sensei is a guarded man who is old enough to work but chooses not to (we never get the impression that this is out of laziness), has few close friends, and doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. While the innocent young narrator initially sees Sensei as the stereotypical older wise man, he slowly begins to realize that he has something unique to teach him. When the Emperor dies, his beloved General Nogi commits junshi, ritual suicide after the death of one’s feudal lord or master. Being a man of the old Tokugawa era, this act evokes more of a reaction in the Sensei than it does in the younger narrator – another sign that Soseki is telling the story of a generational and cultural divide. When Sensei sees General Nogi kill himself out of loyalty for the Emperor, he realizes that he doesn’t feel comfortable in this new Meiji dispensation, with the “modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves.” The second part, “My Parents and I,” sees the narrator’s father’s health start to decline, which leaves his future as a very recent college graduate very uncertain. He and his brother are both curious about what the will has in store for them, but the recent manner in which General Nogi died brutally underscores the new era’s selfish interest in material things. The last part consists of a very long letter that Sensei wrote to the narrator before he too decides to commit suicide. We learn of his youth, his family, and an episode during his time as a student (that I won’t reveal here) that ties together all the facets of Sensei’s personality and finally completely reveals who he is. Throughout the novel, the prose is spare, sharp, lean, and clear. Even Sensei’s voice, in his extended letter, varies very little stylistically from that of the narrator. This spare quality adds a sense of quiet distance between the reader and the story, which perhaps for more harmonious reflection. The language may just be the product of a particularly good translation, but I found the writing well suited to describing the characters and the Soseki’s themes: human frailty, the inevitability of the culture clash, the unrelenting quality of modernity, and confrontation with one’s troubled youth.