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Botchan (1906)

by Natsume Sōseki

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8923319,291 (3.56)1 / 59
'All right, I decided, if I couldn't win tonight, I'd win tomorrow. If I couldn't win tomorrow, I'd win the day after. And if I couldn't win the day after, I'd just have my meals delivered from home and stay right where I was until I did win' Botchan is a modern young man from the Tokyo metropolis, sent to the ultra-traditional Matsuyama district as a Maths teacher after his the death of his parents. Cynical, rebellious and immature, Botchan finds himself facing several tests, from the pupils - prone to playing tricks on their new, naïve teacher; the staff - vain, immoral, and in danger of becoming a bad influence on Botchan; and from his own as-yet-unformed nature, as he finds his place in the world. One of the most popular novels in Japan where it is considered a classic of adolescence, Botchanis as funny, poignant and memorable as it was when first published, over 100 years ago. In J. Cohn's introduction to his colourful translation, he discusses Botchan's success, the book's clash between Western intellectualism and traditional Japanese values, and the importance of names and nicknames in the novel. Translated and introduced by J. Cohn… (more)
  1. 10
    Staggerford by Jon Hassler (bunnygirl)
    bunnygirl: Both are about secondary schools in small towns; their protagonists are somewhat outcast from the school staff, and the staff is largely made up of ineffectual, flawed characters who derive enjoyment from playing mind games with the other teachers.
  2. 10
    The Times of Botchan, Volume 1 by Jirô Taniguchi (kaixo)
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» See also 59 mentions

English (27)  Catalan (2)  Spanish (2)  Galician (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (33)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
32
  revirier | Dec 13, 2021 |
Botchan by Sōseki Natsume, translated by J Cohn, is something I'd been meaning to read for, well, a couple of decades now. I've had a physical copy longer than I can recall when I got it, perhaps a gift from my Grandmother. I've tried getting into it a number of times, but just couldn't. I finally did.

The most serious attempt at this book was in the 90s when I was taking Japanese 101 at Seattle Central Community College. I had a Japanese friend outside of class that was shocked to see I had the book with me, and that I was reading it, because it was such a deep and specific cultural phenomenon. I ended up saying it was a bit boring, and I didn't really think much of it. I didn't finish it. In fact, now that I've read it, I don't think I got very far into it at all, that time.

I still don't like it. It's a story about a bunch of awful people being awful and nothing good comes of any of it. The main character is infantile, rash, and gullible. Everyone else is also deeply flawed. They stay that way.

There's an awful lot of what appears to me homophobic but gratuitous preoccupation with criticizing how feminine other males are. Ironically there's a scene where the main character is totally mesmerised by the flexing, bulging muscles of a compatriot.

There's also few female characters at all, with three that appear for any meaningful amount of the story. The first is Botchan's nanny, who constantly lavishes praise and care on him with an irrational, one might say economically dependant and sycophantic, way that fails to be recognized as such. There's a beautiful woman who is fickle and the object of a conspiracy who is mostly seen from a distance, when seen at all. There is an old landlady who always cooks sweet potatoes for dinner and is, as it turns out, a useful gossip. There's others mentioned in passing, but this is really to extent of it.

And, pretty much everyone is miserable or awful to each other, and usually both, including the narrator. It is strange, in a way, to think about how this story is, as described in the front matter, as probably being pretty biographical, because the narrator seems to be to be an ass. The front matter seems to describe the main character as a kind of heroic rebel, but no. Not close. He's constantly getting tricked. He constantly jumps to conclusions based on hearsay from people he doesn't trust. And so on.

And, there's not really any character arc for anyone in the story. In fact, in the end, not much changes. The same awful people just, probably, keep on being awful. That's the worst part, I guess. I somewhat identify with the situation of being surrounded by people that I can't really trust, who are up to something; and if I say anything about what they're doing they just say I started it and I look bad but they're the assholes. That whole bit of bullshit is too familiar. This story doesn't resolve that for the characters and doesn't offer any insight into a way out; except to take some petty revenge then pack up and leave. Maybe that is the only answer then, as it's kind of what I've ended up doing in similar situations.

I just don't see how this is a "treasured novel" with "timeless popularity" or "a hilarious tale about a young man's rebellion against 'the system'". Maybe I really missed it without the deep and specific cultural or period context. But, unless someone can enlighten me to what's there but not there, it's a miss for me. There's no treasure here. I felt the ploding passage of my time while reading it. It's painfully not funny at all. He's not a rebel against any system, just largely oblivious and angry to no ultimate effect. It's a bleak and boring pastoral about unending pervasive and dismal angst not worth remembering.

Still, it's well written. It's an experience of a moment in time in another culture that made me think about life. I'm not glad I read it, but I'm glad I'm done with it.



I made 14 highlights. ( )
  jgbell | Nov 3, 2021 |
***WHO SUCKED ME IN***
Seji (I think their name is the Artisan Geek) on Youtube in their Japanese Classics haul video published somewhere in August.

I have such a hard time reading classics. I blame being forced to read Dutch classics as a teenager. Somehow our classics are very bleak and depressing. And as someone who always try to read happy joy joy ever since a small child, I decided classics aren't for me. So I'm still surprised when a classic sounds interesting. The French classic by Dumas is very entertaining and I'm hoping this Japanese classic will be too. Also the way Seji described it it will also show a side of Japanese culture I'm not familiar with. But that's very easy to do
  Jonesy_now | Sep 24, 2021 |
Actual Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Review: Overall, this was a good and fascinating story. I liked the path it took, but I did have a few problems with it. The characters bothered me a little bit. Botchan was annoying, especially at the beginning, and the teachers were just...eh. The story was also slow paced from the middle onwards, so that bummed me a bit. ( )
  historybookreads | Jul 26, 2021 |
The novel is the story of a middle-class boy born in Tokyo. He is the youngest son and his older brother is the favorite son. But we don't feel sorry for Botchan, as we soon find out why this happens. Botchan is lazy and full of a sense of entitlement. He has no passion and determination and, as he does not want to get a job, after his father dies, he decides to attend school (which is paid for by his brother), believing that with the academy there will be an easy life.

Eventually, he takes a teaching position in a rural community as a math instructor, and this only leads to humorous disputes between teachers and students. Botchan, believes to be superior to this simple country people. Although Botchan is selfish, pampered and believes he is smarter than he really is, he is still a very pleasant character, that laughs at his frustrations. His sense of entitlement makes us hope that others will capture him for his pretensions.

Botchan is someone who can find fault with everyone around him but himself. Although it's his own arrogance that makes reading so much fun. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Feb 24, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Natsume Sōsekiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cohn, J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sasaki, UmejiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From the time I was a boy the reckless streak that runs in my family has brought me nothing but trouble.
Because of an hereditary recklessness, I have been playing always a losing game since my childhood.-----------Translation by Morri/ Kennedy 1919
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'All right, I decided, if I couldn't win tonight, I'd win tomorrow. If I couldn't win tomorrow, I'd win the day after. And if I couldn't win the day after, I'd just have my meals delivered from home and stay right where I was until I did win' Botchan is a modern young man from the Tokyo metropolis, sent to the ultra-traditional Matsuyama district as a Maths teacher after his the death of his parents. Cynical, rebellious and immature, Botchan finds himself facing several tests, from the pupils - prone to playing tricks on their new, naïve teacher; the staff - vain, immoral, and in danger of becoming a bad influence on Botchan; and from his own as-yet-unformed nature, as he finds his place in the world. One of the most popular novels in Japan where it is considered a classic of adolescence, Botchanis as funny, poignant and memorable as it was when first published, over 100 years ago. In J. Cohn's introduction to his colourful translation, he discusses Botchan's success, the book's clash between Western intellectualism and traditional Japanese values, and the importance of names and nicknames in the novel. Translated and introduced by J. Cohn

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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