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Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
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Kokoro (original 1914; edition 1957)

by Natsume Soseki

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1,327255,861 (3.96)1 / 125
Member:SqueakyChu
Title:Kokoro
Authors:Natsume Soseki
Info:Gateway Editions (1957), Paperback
Collections:Your library, To read
Rating:
Tags:Japanese fiction

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Kokoro by Natsume Soseki (1914)

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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
"Kokoro" was confusing, unsatisfying, interesting...to say the least. Why did the student seek out Sensei to begin with? I figured the student was gay and felt a physical attraction; quite possibly, that was the case. But for melancholic Sensei (who married the woman of his dreams), how did he benefit by building and maintaining a relationship with the acolyte whom, ultimately, he deemed to be more intimate and trusting than his wife Ojosan? I didn't get it.

The student was no hero. He was naive, deeply flawed, and unbalanced. How else to explain his sudden, rash "Remains of the Day decision" to leave his father's deathbed in order to pursue his obsession with Sensei? Possibly we all can relate to the student's feeling, in some form, of profound personal conflict...but, still, he totally flunked out at a critical moment for himself and his family.

Sensei's letter was indeed the most engaging part of "Kokoro", as it provided an interesting and compelling back story for how, and under what circumstances, he arrived at his station in life and adopted his overall piss poor, untrusting attitude about himself and others. As described in the letter, the relationship dynamics between Sensei and "K", his erstwhile student peer and friend, were plenty weird. Yet they also were understandable and, to a certain extent, transcended the specific zeitgeist of early 20C Japanese culture.

Ultimately, I won't pretend to understand Sensei and the decisions that he made. I also can't comprehend the relationship between Sensei and the student. If these connections were in some way emblematic of early 20C Japanese mores or culture, I simply didn't get them. ( )
  EpicTale | Jun 11, 2014 |
"How can I escape,except through faith,madness or death?"

Kokoro is an epic melodrama of isolation and self-inflicted guilt. A beautiful heartfelt experience from the exploring friendship between a young graduate student and his mentor(Sensei).Soseki brilliantly unveils an intricate web of egoism,guilt,temptations and loneliness through various anecdotes on Sensei's reclusive living. No wonder Soseki succeeded Lafacdio Hearn as a lecturer in English Literature in the Imperial University(1903). ( )
1 vote Praj05 | Apr 5, 2013 |
I love this book despite its flaws. What flaws? Well, a latent misogyny and the implication that poverty reflects a character failing, for starters, but the principle flaw for me was an aloof, distant, overly-formal narrator in the first 2/3 of the story. This nameless voice could have been very sympathetic if his delivery had been different. A lonely university student, insecure and uncertain about his future? I could have identified with him, if he had been more engaging. He could have been a Holden Caulfield or a Gene Forrester. Instead the Student (that's what I'm going to call him from now on) held me at arm's length, coldly reporting his father's death and his estranged relationship with an older brother, as if he were giving a deposition. No doubt some of this stiff stoicism reflects his upbringing in the Japan of 1914- a time and place that stood on a lot of formality, and which probably regarded grieving as so much emo handwringing, and friendly familiarity as disrespectful frivolity. A wisecracking Holden Caulfield would be out-of-place here. Still, I would have liked a more intimate bond with the narrator. Looking past that, this was a melancholy book that I could not put down. It grieves at human suffering without shaking its fists at the sky or cutting itself in the bathroom stall of some nightclub. The narration is infused with a tired resignation which strikes me as vaguely Buddhist, the same way Vonnegut’s phrase "So it goes" does.

Kokoro is divided into three parts: in part one, Student befriends a retired professor he refers to as "Sensei" (i.e. "Teacher"). Part two follows recently-graduated Student back to his parents' modest rural home to his father's deathbed, and to settle the details of his inheritance with his estranged brother. Part three takes the form of a letter Sensei left for Student, to be opened after his death. That letter is far and away the most gripping part of the book, because Sensei's voice is much more relatable and intimate than Student‘s.

Without spoiling too much, Sensei's story carries the book, and is a truly heartbreaking account of love and loss, friendship tested, regret and remorse. You know; the big stuff; the stuff that actually happens to everyday people, who then spend years dissecting and analyzing the events, playing them over in their minds, both as part of a healing process, and in an effort to learn whatever lessons their mistakes may hold. Who reading this review hasn't reflected back on some regrettable incident, years after the fact, imagining how it could have gone better? Who hasn't sat pondering, embarrassed with oneself over how indefensible some youthful outburst, indiscretion or impulsive act seems, looking back on it now with added experience and maturity? This is all part of living and growing, isn't it? The story here feels very real- that is to say it does not strike me as the least bit contrived, and it's all very sad, but I guess I really appreciate Kokoro for not feeling compelled to keep the tone upbeat, or to end the story with a happy resolution that has a neat bow on top. Life can feel like a mess sometimes.

I haven't read Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Bright-sided" but I think it is about the modern (and especially American) tendency to fetishize happiness to the exclusion of all other emotions. And that's really sick, because limiting oneself to a narrow band of feelings at the happy end of the spectrum is to deny a part of one's self and one's experiences, as if they don't have value; as if they don’t belong to the overall substance of who we are, or what our life has meant. I almost feel ridiculous writing this, as if maybe this is a straw man I'm putting out there just to knock down, but let me share some context here: the last couple months have seen a minor controversy in medicine, as proposed changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition (DSM-5) have been leaked prior to its expected release later this year. The DSM provides Psychiatrists with guidelines on diagnosing psychiatric disorders. Unless the current controversy changes things, it looks like the new DSM will regard depressive symptoms as pathologic, regardless of context or duration. In other words, there will be no recognition of grieving as a normal human experience; if you're depressed on the day of a loved one's death, you'll be considered pathologically depressed, and in need of medication. It's a bit off-topic here, but shyness will apparently also no longer qualify as a normal condition. There is little doubt in my mind that the influence of psychotropic drug manufacturers has something to do with these changes, but that isn‘t what I want to discuss here. What's concerning is that a portion of the normal range of human emotions is under attack. Part of who we are is about to be pathologized, marginalized, stigmatized and medicated away. And for what? If this "war on sadness" (my expression) successfully puts a pharmaceutical smile on everybody's faces, and exterminates any trace of negativity from the population, can anybody honestly imagine that humankind will be the better for it? Koroko has been a wonderful book to read in the midst of this debate, because everything of interest on these pages is terribly tragic yet deeply fulfilling to read. There is substance here; and I don't want to be misunderstood as equating mopey self-pity with depth, because that's not what this book implies. These characters are richer, more interesting, more human for their suffering. Sensei's remorse, his regret at words left unsaid, are deeply human. Could somebody perpetually happy ever be this human? True: at some point, Sensei's remorse becomes pathologic, and he probably could have benefited from whatever assistance modern psychiatrists are qualified to offer. Finding that fine line between normal and disease is a challenge; a skill that psychiatrists spend years honing. The anticipated revisions in the DSM-5 suggest that Psychiatry as a profession has given up looking for that line, which is unfortunate. It's a disservice to patients, which strikes me -ironically- as a very sad development. ( )
1 vote BirdBrian | Apr 4, 2013 |
You like Japan? Read Natsume Soseki.

I hope I don't sound racist when I recommend this to people who like that "Japanese melancholic vibe" as if all Japanese people are morose or anything. I grew up loving anime, and if you are familiar with anime, you'll know anime is weird but hilarious all the same. But then, I also watch Japanese films and they are pretty damn melancholic. These bittersweet films with simple themes that just make your heart ache. I really think it's characteristic of "Japanese" just as much as their quirky anime and game shows. And I suppose they are two sides of the same coin - the hilarity in juxtaposition of its melancholy.

I think Kokoro is indeed very "Japanese". I enjoyed reading it because I enjoy the simple serenity and directness of Japanese media. In fact, while I was reading this, I imagined I was watching a Japanese film. Circa time of Memoirs of a Geisha, and my beloved Rurouni Kenshin.


Also, Kokoro was authored by one of the most popular Japanese novelist of all time, and if you even had a little interest in Japan, you would know Kokoro. From what I understand in its Introduction, this novel is widely known to everyone in Japan.

It tells of the life of Sensei in the time the narrator, a young man, meets and befriends him and of the shadow that plagues Sensei's existence.

Now comes the hard part where I have to go through that intellectual detail that the novel is really about. I am utterly unreliable in this area. Is it enough to say "Read the Introduction after you read the novel?"

Kokoro was published in 1914, and the events in the novel were set in 1912, around the time emperor Meiji died. The Meiji era signaled a new era in Japan - the opening of Japanese gates to Western civilization and an end to feudalism and the samurai way. *Insert intricacies of Japanese history and culture*

In my own innocent understanding: It's about the conflicts of the old and the new.

And it's also about human relationships and moral dilemmas.

...

...

...

Ugh, I just can't review this properly.

It's a pretty good novel, okay? Even with its flaw. I friggin love that melancholic vibe. So yeah, *4 stars. ( )
2 vote qquiet | Apr 2, 2013 |
It's a classic revered among the Japanese. Even though it did not disappoint me in any way, I must say that I did not enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed books by Kawabata or Tanizaki. Not to mention Murakami, but he is a different era altogether.
Kokoro means heart in Japanese, and it stands for not only the physical heart but also for the metaphorical heart of the matter and the spiritual center of being. In the book, it can be taken to mean all of the above, and some aspects of it can even be reminiscent of the Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, which gives it still an additional dimension. It also comes from roughly the same historical period as Poe’s work, the time when Japan was in transition- it started to open itself to the West. Soseki studied and lived in England for some period as well, and it’s reflected in the book where typical and traditional Japanese values and behaviours intermingle with the Western stress on the individual. The book starts slowly and progresses at a languid pace until it suddenly develops towards the end and then it gathers great speed and is as unstoppable as a freight train.
An interesting read altogether, but I doubt it will ever become my favourite. ( )
  Niecierpek | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Soseki, Natsumeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
McClellan, EdwinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McKinney, MeredithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McKinney, MeredithIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I always called him “Sensei.”
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Could that delicate and complex instrument that lies in the human breast ever really produce a reading that was absolutely clear and truthful, like a clock's hands pointing to numbers on its dial?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0895267152, Paperback)

Nineteenth-century Japanese novel concerned with man's loneliness in the modern world.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:15 -0400)

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"No collection of Japanese literature is complete without Kokoro, the last novel Natsume Soseki complete before his death in 1916. Published here in the first new translation in more than fifty years, Kokoro--meaning "heart"-is the story of a subtle and poignant friendship between two unnamed characters, a young man and an enigmatic elder whom he calls "Sensei". Haunted by tragic secrets that have cast a long shadow over his life, Sensei slowly opens up to his young disciple, confessing indiscretions from his own student days that have left him reeling with guilt, and revealing, in the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between his moral anguish and his student's struggle to understand it, the profound cultural shift from one generation to the next that characterized Japan in the early twentieth century" --Cover, p. 4.… (more)

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