Natsume Sōseki’s short novel is a mainstay on the Japanese school curriculum, and it is easy to see why. Based in part on the author’s own experiences as a teacher so he also lets his imagination run a bit wild, and this tale is narrated by Botchan, who is from Tokyo.
We start this tale when our narrator is still young and so we read of his exploits as a child, which do cause some problems, and then we follow him on as he studies at college and then takes up a position at a middle school. As we see Botchan is quick to anger, very opinionated and strong headed, and as the school is on a different island and in a small town so the narrator thinks the people are a bit backward. This in a way reflects the cultural changes that were becoming evident in Japan at the time, and thus somewhere like where Botchan finds himself was still more traditional in its outlook and customs.
With tricks being played on our narrator by the school’s pupils as well as other teachers this makes for an amusing read. There is the use of nicknames here and it has to be pointed out that the Japanese language does give some wonderful potential for word play, not all of which comes across that well in English.
With scheming from all sides and the question of morals being raised this makes for an interesting story, and one that is easy to read. Not only just being a popular book in Japan all these years later it has also put the place where Botchan goes on the tourist map, so perhaps this will give you some idea of how much this book is loved.
Soseki was until recently the undisputed literary giant for readers in his homeland. Botchan is nevertheless a slight piece, and one imagines Soseki would have been surprised that his little novella ever received the reverence accorded by reviewers and critics since its publication. Essentially the work is to be categorised as 'young schoolmaster's journey to self awareness - failed', which is part of an extensive canon. Botchan thinks he knows everything, is full of bluster coming from his superior upbringing and his innate authoritarianism, and is a bit of a prat who doesn't engage the reader's sympathy. If nothing else, this undemanding read acts as a valuable reminder of the extraordinary range of Soseki's writing. This rather slight work would never have survived on its own without the rest of the corpus.
I think this book is amazing, it's great for the whole family, really easy to understand as it kind of tells you straightforward rather than beating around the bush. It's quite funny if you have an imagination and shows much of Japanese life.