on 27 March 2009
A quiet tale of the understated love between a civil servant lacking in ambition and his 'passive' wife may seem like small beer in the big scale of events. You could dismiss this novel as a quaint story of domesticity with a charm like that of a period drama and not much more. But you would be wrong. Within the prosaic framework of a kitchen sink drama can be found the deepest questioning of the human condition. To someone brought up with a western imagination it would be easy to identify the behaviour of Sosuke, the novel's protagonist, as stoic resolution. A man who simply accepts the hand he has been dealt with in life and who recognises the futility in trying to alter his circumstances. But there is a darker side to his situation. His love for Oyone has been tainted and compromised by the betrayal of his best friend and the 'theft' of his wife.Thus Sosuke And Oyone come to see all their misfortunes, including the loss of their children, as the penalty for their forbidden love. In a moment of crisis, Sosuke goes through the 'Gate' to seek a spiritual enlightenment but discovers that he is not suited to the cloistered world of the monks. He does not reject religion, nor does he find himself lacking the will to follow the buddhist path, but he simply finds it less preferable to the life he has with Oyone despite the 'quiet desperation' in which they live their lives. Sosuke has achieved a form of serenity all the more potent because he fails to consciously recognise it. It is a serenity tinged with melancholy and imperfections but filled with love. While a bridge provides access to what would otherwise not be accessible, a gate is both an entrance to a new world and a barrier. Sosuke is able to cross the barrier but choses to return to the world he knows and loves. The path to enlightenment offered by religion consists not only in hardships but in sacrifices. Sosuke already experiences hardships in his everyday life but he is not prepared to sacrifice the love he has for Oyone. The path to enlightenment, it seems, can be a selfish one, while the path of love can be one of sacrifice and selflessness.
on 8 August 2008
Natsume Soseki passed away in December 1916 and his books are still making an impact now.
'The Gate' tells the story of Sosuke and Oyone, a middle aged couple who unfortunately have been ex-communicated due to their relationship (Oyone was married previously). The story explores Sosuke and Oyone relationship, a relationship which initially began in passion but as the years have went by has became something more, something they both cherish very much in a quiet but loving manner. Everything changes when Sosuke's younger Koroku moves in with Sosuke and Oyone, they are faced with another face from their past, Koroku does not respect Sosuke because of the life he left behind to be with Oyone.
'The Gate' is about love, family, religion and finding your place in the world, Sosuke feels he has lost his place in the world and tries to change it.
'The Gate' is truly a beautiful book, Natsume Soseki's description of Japanese life is written beautifully, and his descriptions of their surroundings are breathtaking.
A lovely book that makes you thinks.
on 28 August 2008
Deeply sombre, The Gate has something of the atmosphere of Kokoro though satirical, it is much more subtly so, and less comically so, that I am a Cat.
After one reading and with no critical aid, this book is somewhat enigmatic. Not much happens and it is hard to pin down what Soseki might mean. However, Damian Flanagan's excellent introduction helps to introduce and draw attention to some of the philosophical content, symbolism and imagery, and his reading is quite convincing.
This is a carefully planned, controlled novel. As Flanagan convincingly points out, it can be understood as a satire on a specific kind of "will-less" person - rather than, for example, a treatise on the failure of religion to offer any escape or spiritual support.
It's a pity Peter Owen, the publisher, couldn't have gotten a new translation out of Flanagan as well as an introduction. It reads well in English, but the translation is neverthless about 30 years old, and Peter Owen does seem to be doing a major series of Soseki in English here.