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Kokoro by Natsume Soseki

September 21, 2010

I am reading along with my brother’s Japanese Literature class that he is taking as a sophomore in college.  The first book on our syllabus was Kokoro by Natsume Soseki, published in 1914.  The novel is set up quite differently than most western or traditional novels I’ve read.  Instead of a specific  storyline or plot, this book was more of an inspection of two characters’ emotional lives.  This makes sense when you consider the meaning of the word “kokoro” – the novel’s translator, Edwin McClellan, says that the best interpretation of the word is “the heart of things.”

The novel is divided into three parts.  The first section focuses on the narrator and his relationship with “Sensei,” which is not a name, but a word that means leader or teacher.  Sensei is an eclectic fellow with few friends and an introspective attitude and lifestyle.   The second portion of the novel tells the story of the narrator’s relationship with his family, especially during the time of his father’s illness.  The final section is told through a letter that Sensei writes to the narrator and tells the story of how Sensei became the man he is.

I liked this book because it was quite different than most novels I read.  The in-depth look into the character’s lives, thoughts and feelings, allows the reader to become really emotionally invested in Kokoro’s players.  I expected Sensei’s story to be much worse than it actually was, but perhaps that is a product of the violence and craziness of 2010, which wasn’t quite so manic in 1914.  My brother had a great thought as to what he expected to happen in the novel, but I won’t tell you and spoil the ending :)

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