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Kokoro (1914)

by Natsume Soseki

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,703655,346 (3.96)1 / 204
The great Japanese author's most famous novel, in its first new English translation in half a century   No collection of Japanese literature is complete without Natsume Soseki's Kokoro, his most famous novel and the last he completed before his death. 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.… (more)
  1. 20
    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.
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 Author Theme Reads: Kokoro by Natsume Soseki2 unread / 2rebeccanyc, February 2012

» See also 204 mentions

English (63)  Catalan (1)  All languages (64)
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Very interesting. Told in the first person by our young narrator, then transitioning to a letter told in the first person by the other central character, Sensei. Written in the early part of the 20th century and describing the struggle to find meaning in the new open Japan. Also an odd seeking for a father figure that I didn't quite understand, as our narrator's father was still alive, though very provincial, and I guess he was seeking a father figure more in tune with how our narrator saw himself. He didn't find it. The section describing his father's terminal illness was moving and realistic, though as you will see generated a major plot element that I won't describe. The transition to the letter from Sensei was a bit of a weak section but picked up and became powerful towards its conclusion.
Overall a fascinating read, a solid 4.0 ( )
  diveteamzissou | Apr 3, 2024 |
I felt like reading Kokoro because the characters in The Great Passage talked about it. Yes, I will take book recommendations from fictional characters now, thank you very much ;)

The writing is like looking at the sea, seeing the waves come and go. The rhythm lulls you and you follow along, almost despite yourself. It feels both light and heavy, simple and very intricate.

This short novel has 110 chapters. The reader can take a breath in between, reading slower, reflecting, letting thoughts settle for a moment. I liked that.

There are three stories here:

📖 The unnamed young narrator who meets and comes to admire an older man he calls Sensei. “Admire” is the wrong word, though, it is more of an intellectual obsession born out of loneliness and an undefined youthful longing for “something else”. A very strange, yet compelling, friendship dance follows, with the narrator always wanting more, and with Sensei always drawing back.

“...whenever some unexpected terseness of his shook me, my impulse was to press forward with the friendship. It seemed to me that if I did so, my yearning for the possibilities of all he had to offer would someday be fulfilled.”

There are hints of tragedy and dark secrets in Sensei’s past, and his marriage is a melancholy thing. Sensei seems to fear the young man’s admiration.

“The memory of having sat at someone’s feet will later make you want to trample him underfoot. I am trying to fend off your admiration for me, you see, in order to avoid your future contempt.”

📖 The narrator coming to his parents’ home to be with his dying father. These are harrowing chapters. Young man’s time with Sensei has corrupted him somehow, I feel, made him less of who he should be. The decision he makes at the end of Part 2 is impulsive and rash. We never see its aftermath, making it all the more tragic.

📖 The third story is Sensei’s letter, his confession. The love story has a lovely beginning. “Whenever I saw her face, I felt that I myself had become beautiful.” I found the portrayal of romantic love in a misogynic society interesting. How does a clever, sensitive man reconcile romantic love with his contempt for women in general? (He tries. He doesn’t, not really.)
With the love triangle in place, the story turns ugly. It is about people unable to express their feelings and talk to each other about them. This evolves into an emotional impotence and an inability to act when you need to (it gets tedious for the reader, though).Words said and words unsaid destroy everyone involved.

“Words are not just vibrations in the air, they work more powerfully than that, on more powerful objects.”

Sensei does a vile, dishonourable thing. After that, his life is but an imitation of one.

It’s interesting how things authors don’t show you can still be powerful – we never see the young man’s reaction to the letter, but just thinking about it hits you hard.

I feel melancholy after finishing, but I liked the experience of reading this classic. ( )
  Alexandra_book_life | Mar 30, 2024 |
A complicated book that sits in the bottom of your stomach for time after reading it. The hearts of the characters remain separate even if driven by each ofher. And we are left not knowing how deep this loss is.

While it is a symbolic story, it is also a historical document of Japanese society 19th century. One can recognise the traces of this confucius imbued social sense even today.

For me this was a particularly unpleasant novel that I am glad i read but that has left me depressed… buyer beware! ( )
  yates9 | Feb 28, 2024 |
Story: 7.0 / 10
Characters: 8
Setting: 8.5
Prose: 8 ( )
  MXMLLN | Jan 12, 2024 |


Seguendo il sentiero, nell’ora del crepuscolo, che conduce alla morte degli dei ‘il cuore delle cose’ (kokoro) illustra l’intramontabile domanda: cosa resta?

Il mio dubbio andava oltre. Da dove veniva la rassegnazione del maestro nei confronti del genere umano? Era forse solo il risultato di una fredda osservazione del mondo attuale, e una riflessione su se stesso? E se una persona era riflessiva, intelligente e lontana dal mondo come il maestro, era inevitabile arrivare alle sue conclusioni? (64)

Scomparsi il cane e i bambini, il vasto giardino dalle giovani foglie era tornato tranquillo. Noi rimanemmo per un po’, senza muoverci, come sospesi in quel silenzio. Il bel colore del cielo comincio’ allora a prendere luminosita’. Gli alberi che avevamo davanti, quasi tutti aceri, e le leggere foglie verdi che spuntavano come gocce dai rami sembravano diventare via via piu’ scuri. Si sentiva in lontananza il rotolio delle ruote dei carri, e io immaginavo che fosse l’andirivieni della gente di campagna che portava a qualche mercato piante e verdure. A quel suono, il maestro si alzo’, quasi ritornasse alla vita dopo una profonda meditazione. (95)

Il fatto e’ che, per K, il passato era una cosa tanto sacra che non poteva venire gettato via come un vestito smesso. Si puo’ dire che il passato fosse stata la sua vita, e negarlo avrebbe significato togliere qualsiasi scopo agli anni che aveva vissuto. (248)


( )
  NewLibrary78 | Jul 22, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Soseki, NatsumeAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
González, Fernando CordobésTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McClellan, EdwinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McKinney, MeredithIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McKinney, MeredithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ogihara, YokoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rougier, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spadavecchia, NicolettaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
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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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The great Japanese author's most famous novel, in its first new English translation in half a century   No collection of Japanese literature is complete without Natsume Soseki's Kokoro, his most famous novel and the last he completed before his death. 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.

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