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Kokoro (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Natsume Soseki
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 May 2010 Penguin Classics
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.


Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (6 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143106031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143106036
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 12.8 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 287,538 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very human, complex story 31 Oct 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
It's not perfect by any means, but its subtleties and complex nature make it a highly fascinating read. It is is also relatively short and oddly fast paced, making it very easy to read. I think its pace is due to extremely short chapters each of which will provoke some mild shock or reveal some complex intrigue which seems bizarrely endless.
You might be put off by the plot in which the action is virtually non-existent and in which the real story only surfaces towards the end, cutting off the narator's lesser story unresolved at a crucial point, but if you can get past this, you may well find it to be a worthwhile experience. At any rate, it is an interesting insight into old-time, foreign forms of morality and manners in the process of irrevocable change.
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0 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A rather bland mess 8 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback
This work was originally conceived as a letter from a suicide to a friend explaining the reasons for his decision to take his own life. Only later were the sections that now form the first two thirds of the novel added, and this disconnect is immediately evident in the strange structure and change of style of the book. The suicide note is the heart of this work and introduces an entirely new set of characters, motivations, and history. Whilst the earlier sections have presaged that there will be a tragedy and that there is a mystery to be explained there is not really any connection between the story of the suicide and the story of the friends between whom the suicide note is sent. Even the writing style changes perceptibly between the earlier and later sections. The first part of the book being rather dreamy and soft focused whilst the suicide note has a much harder edge. It is not necessary to understand the story of the friendship between the narrator and suicide in order to understand the message this book is trying to get across. Overall then this is something of a structural mess. Its arguable that this book is a form of the German Novelle where unnamed characters are put into a situation to see what will happen (Goethe's Elective Affinities for example) in which case the plot doesn't really matter, but there is no such claim made in the introduction so I think it's just lazy plotting.

Sõseki uses incredibly simple language to describe his world (although of course it's impossible in translation to know how accurately this style reflects the original). He sets out a situation where a young student becomes good friends with a much older man whom he calls Sensei, meaning teacher.
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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 ~ 30 Dec 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?
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars which translation matters 11 Dec 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 2 Dec 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 21 Feb 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 2 April 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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