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

by Natsume Soseki

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,643354,387 (3.93)1 / 158
Member:SqueakyChu
Title:Kokoro
Authors:Natsume Soseki
Info:Gateway Editions (1957), Paperback
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:*****
Tags:Japanese fiction

Work details

Kokoro by Natsume Soseki (1914)

  1. 10
    Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (Limelite)
    Limelite: Another dark psychological novel sharing the theme of isolation or loneliness told mostly through the two main character's thoughts, but more beautifully written.
  2. 00
    A Dark Night's Passing by Naoya Shiga (coolsnak3)
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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
An enigmatic soliloquy on the nature of guilt. How do we live with the guilt of years? Where lies its heavy burden in relationships? The stark words in this book kept me captivated. There is no doubt that Soseki is a master in comprehending the depths of human loneliness. There were passages that I thought could have simply been written for me and only me. Isn't the best writing often a reflection of our own thoughts? That we read because it resonates with us? In that sense, nothing else this year has resonated so much as this sparse, bitter, unsparing novel. ( )
  Soulmuser | May 30, 2017 |
"Kokoro" is Japanese for "heart," or "the essential of things."

We have here a deeply sensuous and internal story concerned with a transitional period in Japan when it began to discard traditional Confucian societal guidelines and be increasingly influenced by Western values.

The plot circulates around a callow college student and his relationship with a seemingly misogynistic older man who lives an isolated life devoid of companionship except that of his wife and increasingly the young student.

Dominating plot is psychological character development based on the feeling of loneliness and self-ostracization due to guilt. Soseki, at the time he wrote this novel, was exploring the fractures in Japanese society at the end of the Meiji period and the influx of Western modes of thinking about social constructs and norms.

The overriding theme of loneliness is represented by the student's quest for knowledge from "Sensi" on how to fit into life, to discover a purpose when one is ill at ease, at sea, and a misfit. He is symbolic of the confusion and uncertainty of Japan's future as it leaves traditional Confucian guidelines behind, substituting Western ones that place greater emphasis on individuality rather than filial piety. These aspects are covered in Part I.

Part II demonstrates the disruption, chaos, and abandonment of earlier ideals as symbolized by the student's family life. His father is dying of a lingering illness (as is the old Empire: the Emperor dies and a national hero, Gen. Nogi, commits suicide to demonstrate his loyalty to the Old Way). The student vacillates between his own desire to strike out on his own and build a life in Tokyo, separating totally from his rural home and kin and remaining home to care for his soon-to-be widowed mother, demonstrating filial piety. The climax in the novel occurs when he receives a letter from Sensei, so disturbing, that he abandons his dying father to run to his teacher who is already dead by suicide. We understand Soseki's thematic intent.

Part III is Sensei's story, a melodramatic epistolary tale of betrayal and self-realization that leads to Sensei's psychological breakdown into a kind of paranoid and permanent depression. Only after meeting the student late in life, who is so much like him when young, yet uncompromisingly different, does Sensei confess in his letter to his only friend that he has found the courage to kill himself because: a) he is no better than those he despises, having exhibited the same behavior; b) he wants to end the agony of his guilt over his youthful betrayal of his friend, "K"; c) he wants to end the self-torture of being unable to believe himself a bad man or to believe himself a good man; d) he can never integrate himself into the New Japan and, so, like the general determines he will remain loyal to the past by not continuing into a future without hope for him.

Regarding thematic development and character analysis as an allegory for Japan on the threshold of seismic change, the novel is a masterpiece. But it is not without its faults. As a construction, the three parts are clunky and disunified. The writing is minimalistic but not individualistic so that it's hard to separate Soseki's style/signature as an author from other minimalist Japanese authors, say Kawabata, and the prose lacks an element of ethereal beauty that seems required.

However, Kokoro is undeniably a classic work that withstands time (written 100+ years ago) and remains modern because of its subject matter: the relationship and obligations of the individual during a period of cultural reorganization. The novel's timelessness is probably due to the treatment of psychological chaos and shattering, being utterly Japanese and without Freudian or Jungian examination. I am grateful for that. ( )
3 vote Limelite | Jan 17, 2017 |
This review is written with a GPL 3.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at Bookstooge.booklikes.blogspot.wordpress.com by express permission of this reviewer   Synopsis A young student in Tokyo finds a mentor, who happens to dislike humanity and promises that the student will only find disappointment in him. This happens during the time of the transition from the Meiji era to whatever the modern era is called.   My Thoughts I have been wanting to expand my reading beyond my typical United States/England authors. Given, I read manga, and have read some European [Adrian Tchaikovsky is the main guy who springs to mind], and I've read the Russians and the French, but my Eastern reading was limited to half of The Art of War by Sun Tzu and some of Murakami's works [and those are just WEIRD!]   So I decided to read a Japanese author who was "acclaimed". Got a hold of Soseki's name and tracked down this book.   Basically, this was the fictional account of a young student growing up and having hero worship for someone who doesn't believe they deserve it. It is melancholic, dealing with death, the past, naivete.   I almost couldn't finish it when Sensei was telling his story, his fall from grace. I could totally relate to him as a young man. So full of self-righteousness, certainty & doubt, love & indecision, hope and despair.   And then Sensei's letter ends and so does the story. We never find out about the MC's father, or what he went on to do. It was almost like it was a cycle just waiting to repeat with small variations.   Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars   Author: Natsume Soseki " ( )
1 vote BookstoogeLT | Dec 10, 2016 |
Wonderful novel... never read any lit crit of this, but seems like an allegory for the end of the Meiji era in Japan; the death of the original oligarchy that felled the Tokugawa and ruled the country for 40 years or so... translation is minimalist and gorgeous. ( )
1 vote BooksForDinner | Jan 26, 2016 |
Written 100 years ago, but with a story just as relevant and heartbreaking as when it was first published, Kokoro chronicles a few years in the life of a young Japanese university student upon meeting and acquainting himself with a mysterious older man who he come to refer to as Sensei. Throughout the course of this book, our nameless protagonist begins to spend more time with Sensei and somewhat gain his friendship, but, Sensei has a dark secret which has taken much joy out of his life. Throughout the first part of the book Sensei remains a figure shrouded in mystery, and our protagonist comes to respect Sensei.

The book is split into three parts. The first part, as above shows our protagonist spending time with Sensei and pondering over the man's mysteries. The second part has our protagonist returning home to the country in order to be with his dying father, and finally the third part is a long missive written by Sensei, which reveals the dark secrets of his past.

Overall I would say this is a book you owe it to yourself to read. It is not action packed, and if you are unfamiliar with Soseki's other work, then it may do you good to first read one of his more lighthearted works such as I am a cat (1905), because make no mistake, this novel will put you through great emotional turmoil by the end. Some may call this book slow, but if you want to read something quiet, reflective, and downright beautiful, then look no further.

Of final note, the translation of this novel is very good, and flows perfectly in English, and all cultural allusions have been detailed in the footnotes and introduction when required. ( )
2 vote hickey92 | Jan 24, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:28 -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)

(summary from another edition)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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