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Kokoro: A Novel (Translated from Japanese)…

Kokoro: A Novel (Translated from Japanese) (original 1914; edition 1967)

by Natsume Soseki (Author), Edwin McClellan (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,917395,674 (3.97)1 / 184
  On one level a meditation on the changing face of Japanese culture and its attitudes towards honor, friendship, love, and death as well as a sly subversion of all of these things, this novel centers around the friendship between the narrator and the man he calls Sensei, who is haunted by mysterious events in his past. As the friendship grows and the narrator learns more about the man he so admires, he is increasingly intrigued by his hidden history. The Sensei refuses to divulge anything until the narrator is called away to look after his sick father, and the truth is finally revealed amidst tragic circumstances.… (more)
Title:Kokoro: A Novel (Translated from Japanese)
Authors:Natsume Soseki (Author)
Other authors:Edwin McClellan (Translator)
Info:Regnery Books (1967), Edition: 3rd Edition., 248 pages
Collections:Your library, To read

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 38 (next | show all)
One of my interesting resources for new books might come as a surprise to some. This occurs when I read a novel with characters who give high praise to a novel they admire. I read a novel by Japanese novelist, Natsume Sōseki based solely on the title, Kafka on the Shore. I loved it and have since read a couple of others. I recently reviewed the latest novel of Haruki Murakami, Men without Women. This novel led me back to Sōseki and, what is purported to be, his masterpiece, . I, too, lavish a ton of praise on Sōseki for this puzzling and interesting novel.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One is “Sensi and I,” which tells the story of a young, unnamed college student. One day at the beach, he sees a man who dives into the ocean and swims out of sight. He continues watching until the swimmer returns. The young man sees him twice more, but he never strikes up a conversation. Finally, he introduces himself, but the man, who he has named “SensI,” seems uninterested. Sensi is a Japanese word meaning “teacher.” He asks Sensi, “Would it be all right if I visited you at your home now and then?” Sensi agrees. Sōseki writes, “Often, during my association with Sensi, I was disappointed in this way. Sometimes, Sensi seemed to know that I had been hurt, and sometimes, he seemed not to know. But no matter how often I experienced such trifling disappointments, I never felt any desire to part from Sensi. Indeed, each time I suffered a rebuff, I wished more than ever to push our friendship further” (8). To westerners, this behavior might seem odd at the least, but apparently, not to the Japanese. As time passes, the two men develop a moderately close relationship. Sensi also holds back some information, when the young man questions him. More about this in Part Two and Three.

Part Two is “My Parent’s and I.” The young man has managed to complete his degree. His father has developed an unspecified illness, and the young man returns home for an extended period. The father pushes his son to determine the course of his life. Sōseki writes, “‘I must go,’ I said, ‘if I am to find the kind of job that you had in mind for me.’ // I made it seem as though I wished to go to Tokyo merely to realize my father’s hopes for me. // ‘Of course, I want my allowance only until I find a job.’ // Secretly, I felt that there was little chance of my finding a decent position. But my father, who was somewhat removed from the realities of the world outside, firmly believed otherwise. // ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Since it will only be for a short time, I’ll see to it that you get your allowance. But only for a short time, mind. You must become independent as soon as you find employment’” (98). Before the son leaves for Tokyo, he receives a manuscript from Sensi. He begins to read, but it is long and complicated. He saves the reading for a later date.

Part Three is “Sensi and His Testament.” The “Testament” is the long manuscript-letter Sensi sent to the young man. In it, Sensi answers the questions the young man had asked during their friendship. Shortly after, Sensi dies. In the letter, he reveals the source of his misanthropy as a way to instruct the young man in his future. This fascinating story of friendship, teaching, learning by the great Japanese writer Kokoro by Netsume Sōseki is a serious philosophical exploration of life and death. 5 stars.

--Chiron, 10/13/18
( )
  rmckeown | Jan 22, 2019 |
A tale of manners and social morals dealing with love, friendship and betrayal. Told in a measured, undramatic way that could be Henry James in Japan. Strong social codes involving honour and shame have been prevalent in many societies from medieaval Iceland with its sagas to Victorian Britain. Japan is amongst them. The end is inevitable. It is reached an an inexorably slow but fascinating pace. In its way tragic but also satisfactory. There was no other way. ( )
  Steve38 | Dec 23, 2018 |
Atmospheric. Haunting. Twists. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Jul 23, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Aug 2009):
- The best translation of the word "kokoro" to English is "the heart of things". And so, at its heart, says translator Edwin McClellan in his foreword, this century-old novel is about a man's condition in life, his "loneliness in the modern world".
- The story is formed of three parts. Part I, Sensei and I, involves an unnamed, restless college student's determined befriending of Sensei, a mysterious, brooding, much older married man. The student (as narrator) frustratingly tries to engage Sensei in conversation. All the same, they form a tentative, often silent bond. Sensei obviously harbors a darkness, emphasized by his lonely strolls to a cemetery, of which he'll not speak. The student's grasp for companionship competes with a pull toward his parents' rural home, where his father lies in failing health.
- Part II, My Parents and I, relates the student's return home to care for his father and support his mother. Other relatives pitch in, and his father occasionally rebounds, so that he is tempted to return to college (near Tokyo), and Sensei.
- Part III, Sensei and His Testament, is indeed a very long recollection and rumination on his life, in the form of a letter to the student (which is perhaps too drawn out). He unburdens his soul in a sense, confessing his misguided and self-protecting sins. Through a clear lens to the past, Sensei recounts how he won the object of his desire through deceit, and how that tragic deceit in itself assured a lifelong reminder of that sorrowful episode.
- McClellan says, "In the original, there is beauty beneath the surface simplicity. I can only hope that at least a little of a the beauty has remained in the translation." I believe it does remain, but the beautiful words weave a .. sad story of demise. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | May 17, 2018 |
I have a feeling that Kokoro is a book that will make more and more sense the more I know about modern Japanese culture. On one level it's a simple story about friendship and betrayal, but on another level it's a working-out of the cultural tensions set up in the minds of Japanese intellectuals who lived through the opening-up of Japan to western ideas during the Meiji period (Sōseki was born in the year of Meiji's accession to the imperial throne). The foreground story of Kokoro takes place in the months around the emperor's death, and its main character, Sensei (teacher), is an older man - a contemporary of the author - whose life has been messed up by his inability to resolve the existential conflict between the demands of the two threads of his upbringing, the requirement to subsume himself into the traditional, collective family values of middle-class Japanese society setting itself against the western need for intellectual self-determination. The narrator of the first part of the book is a man of a younger generation who gets into a similar ethical tangle, but with different dimensions and results.

It's all very carefully, delicately built up, with a lot of everyday detail about the rapidly-changing face of Japan in the decades before 1914 used to reflect and explain the development of the conflicts the characters are dealing with. Very much a book about male friendships (what used to be called "homosocial" relationships in the good old days of literary theory), where the women rarely speak and don't have all that much to do apart from arranging flowers and cooking (is that why Penguin coincidentally put a brush-stroke across the woman's eyes in the cover design?). But that's an accusation that would be equally true of a lot of western novels of the same period.

Very interesting, and McKinnon's translation reads very naturally and transparently. ( )
  thorold | Apr 15, 2018 |
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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.”
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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