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Kusamakura [Paperback]

Natsume Soseki , Meredith McKinney
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 5 2008 Penguin Classics
A stunning new translation-the first in more than forty years-of a major novel by the father of modern Japanese fiction

Natsume S?seki's Kusamakura follows its nameless young artist-narrator on a meandering walking tour of the mountains. At the inn at a hot spring resort, he has a series of mysterious encounters with Nami, the lovely young daughter of the establishment. Nami, or "beauty," is the center of this elegant novel, the still point around which the artist moves and the enigmatic subject of S?seki's word painting. In the author's words, Kusamakura is "a haiku-style novel, that lives through beauty." Written at a time when Japan was opening its doors to the rest of the world, Kusamakura turns inward, to the pristine mountain idyll and the taciturn lyricism of its courtship scenes, enshrining the essence of old Japan in a work of enchanting literary nostalgia.


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About the Author

Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) is one of the best-known Japanese authors of the 20th century and considered as the master of psychological fiction. As well as his works of fiction, his essays, haiku, and kanshi have been influential and are popular even today. Meredith McKinney holds a PhD in medieval Japanese literature from the University in Canberra, where she teaches in the Japan Centre. Her other translations include Ravine and Other Stories, The Tale of Saigyo, and for Penguin Classics, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Kusamakura - Soseki Dec 4 2012
By glen cochrane TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
More of a wonderful piece of writing than it is a story, Soseki shows of the power of his art in this short tale that attempts to find the inner essence of the meaning of art.

The first chapter of this book made a lasting impression on me. And while I might have differing opinions about 'what art is' Soseki surely describes art in a way that I think many people can relate to and would agree with. The opening line - As I climb the mountain path, I ponder - adequately in itself introduces the theme of life as a struggle and art as both a cure and result of that struggle. This theme, a theme resonating with anyone who does their best thinking during a bike ride or a hike..or even in response to life's setbacks, is beautifully explored in the pages to come.

Equally satisfying is the final paragraph of the novel, in which the main character finally finds that piece of art he has been searching for over this entire adventure. It's short, and almost lasting in its epiphanistic abruptness.

Soseki's ability to convey the sadness and confusion of his own life, his own era of Japan that he experienced, is on display in this novel. Hius idea of art is so easy to understand, perhaps because he was so good at his craft.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "She walks in beauty..." Jan. 25 2010
Format:Paperback
As though entering a landscape scroll, we climb slowly up the rocky, cedar-covered pass, and into a world deftly built from tiny brush strokes -- an inn, a lake, a temple, some rustics, a beautiful woman. The narrator himself has ostensibly come to paint, escaping the turmoil of Meiji modernization.
Here is a world for those who love the subtle power of great Japanese painters. This book -- more a novella than a novel by western standards of length -- was conceived as a haiku. As great watercolourists soak their papers to mobilize the colours, Soseki permeates the pages of his work with 'mono no aware,' the power of images to directly move our emotions. A book for those who appreciate great beauty in small things and subtle touches.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Midspring Night's Dream March 5 2008
By Crazy Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Kusamakura" is surely one of the weirdest novels of the twentieth century. A very early work by Natsume Soseki, who would go on to be one of Japan's foremost novelists, it's a pioneering one-shot experiment with what the author himself called a "Haiku novel" years before Kawabata Yasunari got the credit for such with his Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. A novel without a plot, where nothing of note really happens, and yet it's an endlessly engaging tale. Or is it a philosophical treatise on aesthetics narrated in the form of a story? Breathtakingly ethereal one moment, it's hilariously crass the next. In genre, it's a heady fusion of the Western novel and the Eastern poem equally at home with Percy Shelley and Yosa Buson, John Millais and Katsushika Hokusai, Oscar Wilde and the Tales of Ise, Christ and Bodhidharma. Staunchly nostalgic and even a tad traditionalist in an age when such things were being pell-mell thrown along the wayside, and yet modernist about a decade or so before its time--arguably ever bit as experimental as Joyce's "Ulysses" in many ways and yet a hundred times more readable and, yes, enjoyable. Indeed, everything I've said up to now may make "Kusamakura" seem rather portentous, but as a work of literature it's utterly unpretentious and approachable. It also so happens, as you may have guessed, to be one of my all time personal favorites.

Which is why nobody could be more thrilled to see "Kusamakura" newly translated and published by Penguin--the folks who have been making classics approachable for decades. Meredith McKinney's new translation here is nothing less than excellent. Unpretentious as it is, "Kusamakura" is nowadays something of a hard nut to crack linguistically speaking, filled as it is with deliberate archaisms of an ornate nature on the one hand and cockney-esque colloquialisms on the other (among other slight puzzlers now obscure in contemporary printed Japanese) and yet McKinney handles Soseki's many voices and sometimes elliptical narration with a surefire grasp of the language and manages to convey the same in highly fluent and idiomatic English. It's carefully accurate and true to the original and yet makes itself at home in its new language to a degree that seems natural and easy but must in fact have entailed much hard work and scholarly care. This edition is also judiciously supplemented with unobtrusive but helpful endnotes following up on Soseki's principal references, and the introduction does a fine job of adequately situating this idiosyncratic classic in the context of Soseki's larger opus and of contextualizing both within the larger framework of Japanese literature and history at the turn of the (last) century without unduly overburdening the book.

In short, this is a wonderful edition of a wonderful book--totally flawless. Okay, not totally; when you first open the book and glance at the half-title page, you'll see in the little blurb the dates for the Meiji period incorrectly given as 1868-1914 instead of 1868-1912. That little nitpick aside, though, this fine book is going to be the definitive edition of Natsume Soseki's early masterpiece for decades to come. Even if you've already read this novel in its previous English version (available in a number of printings, including The Three-Cornered World (Peter Owen Modern Classic) and Three Corner World (Unesco Collection of Representative Works. Japanese Series.)), I highly recommend this new and vastly improved one. And if you've never come across "Kusamakura" before at all, well then, the open road to the deep south awaits you, grass pillow and all!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kusamakura July 9 2013
By Margareta Boege - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As he turns thirty a man goes to a village in the mountains and thinks about art, tries to find his own identity among the western and the traditional (japanese and chinese) ways of creating art and looking at the world, describes the nature that surrounds him and the few people that live there.

Kusamakura is very poetical. I wish I could read japanese, but even in transation the words flow beautifully and you can sense the changes in tone, and you find yourself in a magical world. I particulary remember a scene where he is observing the girl, how he describes her and thinks about if beauty is better described as still or in movement. He tries to paint her but something is missing. And then there is the last scene...

Of course not everyone will like it (but this is true of every book) so I tried to tell you why I do (I am sorry if I can not be more elocuent but my english is not very good). If you like books with a lot of action, or if the subjects I mentioned above do not interest you, this book is not for you. But it is not true that you have to know a lot to enjoy this book, I myself do not know much and I loved it.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A hard book to get into if you do not like reading flowery details and do know old pop culture. Jan. 7 2013
By ilovetomatoes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are knowledgeable about old pop culture (Japanese and European) and know all about Soseki's work, then go ahead and buy this book. Do not bother with reading my review. I am reaching out to unsuspecting readers who will have to buy this book for their Japanese literature class. This is the most boring book I have ever read. The only parts you will like in this book is the dialogue between the characters (because they are very humorous, especially the conversation between the barber and the narrator). However, there are very few of them. The book consist of details after details of what the narrator sees and how he feels about it. He will make constant (old) pop culture references to these images. If you are curious as to how old these pop culture references are then see Crazy Fox's review. If you are into that kind of stuff then, please by all means, enjoy the book. Other than that, I guarantee the only parts worth reading is the dialogues and the last chapter.
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