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4.6 out of 5 stars14
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 13 May 2012
I read the book in Japanese before and I wanted to try its English version. This book keeps the original beauty without giving too many notes. Introduction pages appear rather subjective and I cannot agree with many parts. I would recommend readers to read it only after finishing the book. Highly recommended.
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on 25 December 2011
The first thing to strike the reader is that the book is all told in the first person, although there are two different viewpoints. The second thing is that no one is actually given a proper name throughout the entire book. The first narrator, through whose eyes we see the first half of the novel, is a young man, studying at college. He spies an older gentleman and instantly decides to follow him. This older gentleman is referred to as Sensei, though that is not his real name. The two then form something of a friendship.

Throughout the first part of the book, I couldn't escape the feeling that the translation had left the book a little staccato. The sentences were often short, simple and did not feel to have much flow to them. However, in hindsight, I think this may have been excellent writing from Soseki as the second half (which is narrated by Sensei) is much more fluent. Therefore, I think the punctuated writing pattern of the first half reflects the relative immaturity of the first narrator.

In all of the first narrator's discussions with Sensei, there is a nagging sense of something in Sensei's past which not even his wife knows about. This is brought out early in the novel when it is revealed that Sensei regularly visits a certain grave, though the identity of the grave's occupant is not revealed until much later on, though I shan't spoil it.

The change in narration comes about when the first narrator constantly questions Sensei as to why he is the way he is: aloof and withdrawn from the world, with a distrust for everyone in it, including his own wife. Throughout the first part of the novel, Sensei avoids these questions, but decides to write a letter to his disciple laying out much of his personal history in an effort to ensure that at least somebody knows what his reasons are. It is this letter that forms nearly half the book.

There is much more that I could write about this, but I shall refrain for fear of spoiling it for you. Needless to say, I would really recommend this to you. In fact, I wish I had read this when I was in my early 20s, around the same age as the first narrator. If I could describe it as a piece of scenery, it would be of a handful of people on an open moor, separated by wide open spaces, calling out to one another, but always just on the boundary of being out of earshot. It has a kind of bleakness to it, but not in a fatalistic sense. The bleakness is in the outlook on life that Sensei possesses, based on his own past and the things he blames himself for, though it is slightly open-ended as to how much of what he has piled on his own shoulders is his own fault.
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on 12 March 2008
This book must rate as one of the great works in world literature. It is a story so simple in the telling and yet so complex in meaning. A simple hook will draw you into the world of the narrator and compel you to read on until you reach the stunning conclusion. The confessional tone of the novel will make you feel like a witness to the events as they unfold.The unordained writing style serves to add authenticity to the tale and acts as a counterpoint to the 'haiku style' poetic descriptions littered throughout the book. There can be no summary of the plot for this would spoil the impact on the reader. It is a work that poses so many questions but whose answers you can only 'swim around' and come tantalizingly close to resolving but ultimately realize that they will remain elusive. However, in seeking to answer the unanswerable you will discover many things and be drawn back to read the book again. I consider myself well read and I felt considerable embarrassment at my ignorance of Soseki's work before I purchased this book on a friend's advise. Incomparable.
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on 26 February 2011
I picked up this book because I am simply intrigued by Soseki's much recognized status of Japan's leading novelist, so much so that this book is commonly used as textbook material in Japanese schools to this current day, and the author himself even had his portrait printed on Japanese bank notes.

Written in 1914, Kokoro is nearly a century old and I have to admit I am not at all familiar with the Meiji era it is set in, and all the history with it. Yet the main story itself is simple enough for me to grasp without understanding all the underlying history. The focus of the story is on the two characters and the relationship between them; 'Sensei', an elder figure which the narrator greatly respects, and the narrator being a university student. The friendship between them is quite subtle and cold most of the time, but as the story progresses Sensei begins to open up his heart to the young student, and shared his life experience which explains the development of Sensei's character with a complex mixture of feelings including greed, distrust, guilt, loneliness, isolation. As the name of the book implies, this is a book of the thinking and feeling of the heart, and the psychological development of Sensei's character is outstandingly captured in this book.

Kokoro is a book with great depth and deep meanings to reflect upon, and certainly not one to be read at speed (which I regrettably had to as it was a borrowed book). I personally find the whole story a bit too dark and negative for my liking, but can see why it has achieved the great Japanese classic status; this is undoubtedly an astonishing piece of literature.
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on 14 March 2016
This is the work of a genius. I could sense it after the first page (this translation, McClellan, is humiliatingly better than the Penguin edition, so you know). You will sense it in its deliriously measured prose. Soseki's sentences insufflate your soul with their profundity. You can experience this with few other writers (Saul Bellow is the first name that comes to mind). The feeling of being in the presence of a towering intellect, as when you listen to Beethoven, you don't simply hear the music, you hear the greatness of the man, you feel the depth of his feeling, the weight of his thoughts. You admire the composer as much as the composition.

Then, a quarter way through, Kokoro became a work of genius itself, when it became all too apparent to me what Soseki was doing.

In the 19th century, the Russians patented the superfluous man shtick; this is a character who abjures society because he abhors it or is in some way above it. He's often ahead of his time, and often has his acolytes.

Kokoro starts out the same. A superfluous man novel told from the point of view of a young, doting acolyte. The young man goes as far as only referring to the superfluous man as 'Sensei'. Kokoro's genius reveals itself (and consequently cements Soseki's genius) at the moment the reader begins to question the superfluous man as a superfluous man. What has he done to warrant the title 'Sensei'? What has he said, what light has he shed, what philosophies has he shared, to earn the young acolyte's devotion? I would encourage the reader to ask themselves these questions, even as they are being taken in by the eloquence and style of the young acolyte.

Plain and simple - it's a classic, and deserves a greater western audience. And if you haven't read the The Three Cornered World (UNESCO Collection of Representative Works: Japanese) then you are missing the absolute, irrefutable apotheosis of Nastume Soseki's genius, that's for sure.
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`Kokoro' is a beautifully written book with a deep underlying sadness running throughout it.

This is the story of a young man (the narrator) who befriends an older man, who he calls Sensei. There is a mystery and sadness about Sensei that intrigues the narrator which only comes to light after he goes home to care for his dying father and he receives a letter of Sensei's life story.

Like I mentioned, this has a sadness running throughout it and whist some passages and sentences stand out for their beauty and structure, overall it is the melancholy aspect of this book that I was left with.

The story is quite slow paced and whilst I found it intriguing, I will admit I found it hard to motivate myself to continue with it at times. The translation from Japanese can make it feel a touch stilted at times, but all in all it was a good read.

There is also an introduction exploring the themes of the book which is worth a read, but only after you have finished as it includes some spoilers.

I have read other Japanese literature that I have enjoyed more (notably the work of Yukio Mishima) but this is still a worthy addition to your Japanese literature bookshelf and worth a read at some point.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 6 September 2009
If you love Japanese literature this is one of the best! As many reviewers have already said it could have been written last week. It concerns itself with human relationships, family ties and friendships.It explores how these can be destroyed by acts of selfishness, greed and foolishness. I particularly like how the story left me wondering what would happen next to one of the main characters.
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on 29 January 2014
This is really a beautiful piece of writing. The story has not got many characters and there is no need for this the book packs a puch in its minimalist way. If you like an exploartion into the human psyche then this will interest you
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on 3 May 2012
This was a literary toe in the Japanese waters for me and I was quite undecided for at least half of the book whether to continue reading. Tempted on a number of occasions to hurl it across the room BUT, dear reader, persevere I urge you. It was very rewarding and a truly artistic word picture, or word movie maybe, of the people and period.
(NB: This has been adapted as a film twice The first released in 1955 directed by Kon Ichikawa and again in 1973, by Kaneto Shindo.)
My edition had a fascinating front section about the author, his life and times and his sad early death that was as interesting as the book. I am happy to give this 4 out of 5 as an excellent edition of this work.
David Price
Le Dorat
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on 12 November 2014
Exactly what I wanted.First class service.
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