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?