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Kokoro [Paperback]

Natsume Soseki , Meredith McKinney
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Feb. 23 2010 Penguin Classics
No collection of Japanese literature is complete without Natsume Soseki's Kokoro, his most famous novel and the last he complete before his death. 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.




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Review

"This elegant novel...suffuses the reader with a sense of old Japan."
-Los Angeles Times

"Soseki is the representative modern Japanese novelist, a figure of truly national stature."
-Haruki Murakami

About the Author

Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), one of Japan's most influential modern writers, is widely considered the foremost novelist of the Meiji era (1868-1914). Born Natsume Kinnosuke in Tokyo, he graduated from Tokyo University in 1893 and then taught high school English. He went to England on a Japanese government scholarship, and when he returned to Japan he lectured on English literature at Tokyo University and began his writing career with the novel Botchan. Numerous nervous disorders forced him to give up teaching in 1908, and he became a full-time writer. He wrote fourteen novels, including I Am A Cat and Kusamakura, as well as haiku, poems in the Chinese style, academic papers on literary theory, essays, autobiographical sketches, and fairy tales. His work enjoyed wide popularity in his lifetime and secured him a permanent place in Japanese literature. Meredith McKinney holds a PhD in medieval Japanese literature from the University in Canberra, where she teaches in the Japan Centre. She lived and taught in Japan for twenty years and now lives near Braidwood, New South Wales. Her other translations include Ravine and Other Stories, The Tale of Saigyo, and for Penguin Classics, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon and Kusamakura.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Japanese Literature!!! May 30 2010
By Louise Jolly TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Natsume Soseki was the father of modern Japanese literature and 'Kokoro' was the last novel he completed before his death in 1916. Who knew that 94 years later his books would still be being read by people all over the world.

This is a story about a friendship between to unnamed characters, a young man and an enigmatic elder whom he calls "Sensei".

Sensei is haunted by tragic secrets that have cast a black cloud over his life and stunted his ability to live, to truly live. Sensei eventually begins to open up to his young friend but it isn't until Sensei writes his young friend a long letter that we truly come to understand why Sensei was the man he was. The contents of the letter were quite startling and completely surprising. When I read one certain part of the letter, I actually sucked in an audible gasp!

I was so engrossed in this novel that I couldn't believe I was on the last page already, I wanted there to be more. I highly recommend this novel for everyone. And, while you're all reading this one, I'm going to order some of his other novels which sound equally as good.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penguin has offered a lovely translation ~ Dec 30 2012
By Christopher Barrett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I checked this out as an eBook from my local library since the only hard copies were the previous translations. For those who sigh at another translation, remember that Kokoro, like many classic novels are public domain of sorts. Any publisher can copy the work as long as they credit the author and don't change the original. For translations the rules are a bit more flexible. But Penguin decided they would rather translate the original than pay another publisher for the rights to their translation. I think that's fair. It's like Beethoven. You don't have to pay to use the music, but if you use someone's recording of said Beethoven piece, you need to pay them.

Kokoro is an interesting novel. It is broken down into 3 parts. It is interesting that the chapters are all nearly identical length, about 2 pages each chapter in this version. So there are 110 chapters. But it's not a terribly long read.

The first section deals with the protagonist and his relationship with 'sensei', a seemingly well to do older man. They become acquaintances and finally develop an almost father-son relationship. The second part deals with the protagonist's father who is dying and his relationship with the family. The final section is actually a memoir sent to the protagonist by 'sensei' detailing the events of his younger life and shedding light on some of the mystery behind 'sensei'.

This translation is pretty amazing. I don't read Japanese (at least Kanji though I can read some hiragana pretty well), but I do understand much of the Japanese language. It is difficult to translate not because of the actual words, but because Japanese is subject-object-verb instead of subject-verb-object as in English. So if you literally translate you will sound like Yoda. "I, to this location, must now go," and such. So it is interesting that this translation seems to have less fluff than other translations. Japanese is a relatively straightforward style of writing, focusing on precision and emphasis on more emotions from fewer words. I think this translation caught the original Japanese style and kept the sentences shorter and crisper with more emphasis on the key words and phrases and less on lengthy adjectives. Also, Soseki likes to keep is characters vague and nameless (sounds a lot like a modern Japanese author I know), so they seem to have more mystique. Although it is believed that the 'sensei' character was based at least in part on Soseki himself.

Natsume Soseki is considered the father of modern Japanese literature. He was in what I like to call the Japanese Algonquin Tatami (I totally made it up but it kind of fits). It was a group of talented, though seemingly radical authors in the first half of the 20th century in Japan. Soseki traveled to England and developed a number of neurosis there and upon his return to Japan. His works are peppered with satirical elements, this novel less so than others such as 'I am a Cat'. But I mention this so that folks understand a bit of his influence to his writing. We was definitely a critic of the 'modern' Japanese society of the early 1900s.

I would HIGHLY recommend reading Botchan first. Botchan is Soseki's Huck Finn if you will. It is widely praised for its quality, its flow, and its interesting and very smart alecky protagonist. I actually equate the protagonist to Holden Caufield from Catcher in the Rye. Kokoro is among Soseki's most serious novels and is cited as a major influence by many great Japanese authors such as Yukio Mishima.

Fun fact: Natsume Soseki graced the 1000 yen bank note from 1984 to 2004. Wouldn't it be cool to have Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe on US bills?
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars which translation matters Dec 10 2012
By alm50 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Everyone agrees Kokoro is a masterpiece of modern Japanese literature but for English readers the quality of translation from the Japanese is crucial. It should be noted that the translation of Kokoro Schwalbe chose for "The End of the World Book Club" was by Edwin McClellan, whose translations of Soseki are celebrated, not the translator of the Penguin edition. Newer is not always better.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Touching Japanese Classic Dec 1 2011
By Modest_Type - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the first novel I've read by Natsume Soseki, and my first Japanese novel at that. Although I haven't read another translation, the novel is beautifully written, being succinct yet flowery and powerful at times. Certain lines clearly and powerfully convey the feelings of Meiji Japan. Some recurring themes, such as the animosity between younger and older generations, are still relevant today. Additionally, the fact that this novel takes place in Japan during the Meiji period means it effectively captures the contrast between city and rural life. To me, this book is one I'll treasure forever; it has affected me deeply, compelling me to question my own development as a student, as well as my relationship with my father.

Additionally, because I am a casual reader I was delighted to discover that every chapter is approximately 2 pages long.

Overall, Kokoro is a Japanese classic that offers an emotional and compelling read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Subtle classic Feb. 21 2014
By Stretchkev - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
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.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down April 2 2010
By Gray M. Edwards Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It starts of subtly however the further you read into the novel the further your curiosity is peaked until you become so wrapped up in the novel that it's nearly unbearable to think with each turning page you are coming closer to the end of such an amazing story. Mr. Soseki is definitely right to be so highly regarded. I highly recomend this book I promise you will not be disapointed. very powerful and very moving this novel is at the top of my list of favorites.
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