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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Midspring Night's Dream
"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...
Published on 8 Mar 2008 by Crazy Fox

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Failed Experiment?
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...
Published on 14 July 2011 by DRFP


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Midspring Night's Dream, 8 Mar 2008
By 
Crazy Fox (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Kusamakura (Penguin Classics) (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. 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 actually 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, 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 ("The Three-cornered World"), 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!
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Failed Experiment?, 14 July 2011
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This review is from: Kusamakura (Penguin Classics) (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. I appreciate what it tries to do but I think that gets in the way of what could have been a decent story. It seems like a rare misstep from Soseki who wrote much better things both before and after this. A failed experiment?
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Kusamakura (Penguin Classics)
Kusamakura (Penguin Classics) by Natsume Soseki (Paperback - 31 July 2008)
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