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Kusamakura (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 31 Jul 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (31 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143105191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143105190
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.3 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 284,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Crazy Fox on 8 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
"Kusamakura" is surely one of the oddest novels of the twentieth century. A very early work by Natsume Soseki, 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 humourously 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.

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 on the one hand and nonstandard 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.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By DRFP on 14 July 2011
Format: Paperback
A rather dull and turgid novel by the usually excellent Soseki. After the dashing nature of both "Botchan" and "I Am A Cat", "Kusamakura / The Three Cornered World" marks an abrupt change of direction. Gone is the zip and lightness of touch of his previous works and instead we have a glacial and quite Romantic (note the capital letter) book.

I can't shake the feeling that this is novel that ought to be a piece of non-fiction. So much attention (a vast majority of the book) is devoted to ruminations on nature and art, be it painting, poetry or music, that it gets in the way of the minor story within the novel. It reminded me of the many asides that Dostoevsky inserts into his novels, which likewise neglect the plot and cast of characters [I hope criticism of Dostoevsky doesn't mark me down as a reviewer to be distruted!]. I have no problem with this type of discourse but in any instance where such pondering takes up a significant amount of space I do wish the author had stuck it in a separate essay.

I sympathise a little with Soseki for all this. I do like how this novel is different from the other few of his I have read. Its meditative focus on art and nature is initially beguiling; but it goes on too long and gets in the way of the characters and their tale. Call me old fashioned but I think that's the heart of any novel. I also understand that this way of thinking is the nature of the main character but I still believe Soseki gets the balance wrong. I don't mind the fact that very little takes place during this story - "Sanshiro" is similar in that respect but that novel, even if not my favourite Soseki story, still had the author's deft prose to keep everything feeling light and breezy.

I simply found this novel hard to like.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
A Midspring Night's Dream 5 Mar. 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
Kusamakura 9 July 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.
A pretty quick read 10 April 2015
By dmnt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A pretty quick read, but not quite as enjoyable as *Kokoru*. Very lyrical with some nice nature writing. Some of the narrator's pontificating on art was a little off-putting, but I've started to think that was purposefully done, in addition to cultural differences.
Five Stars 20 Mar. 2015
By Muriel S.McClellan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A wonderful book about the beauty of thinking like an artist.
2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A hard book to get into if you do not like reading flowery details and do know old pop culture. 7 Jan. 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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