Book Review: Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki
“Haunted by tragic secrets that have cast a long shadow over his life, Sensei slowly opens up to his young disciple…”
I have been into Japanese authors lately and my sudden spiked interest started last year when I read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami on a recommendation by a friend. I loved it too much but I will save my review of that for another post. Because I have a lot to say about Murakami and especially Norwegian Wood. But today we are talking about another Japanese author, equally if not more well-known (all over Japan at least) than Haruki Murakami.
I read Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki three months ago and at first I did not find the universal appeal. But it is one of those stories that slowly but surely grows on you and once it does, you cannot let go of its tenacity. Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki, born Natsume Kin’nosuke is a story that follows a young university student and his strange friendship with a much older man whom he calls ‘Sensei’ which is a common Japanese term to address elders, especially teachers.
Sensei is an enigmatic person who is intelligent and well read but doesn’t do any work. He is a recluse and spends his time at home surrounded by his hatred for the human race. The narrator first sees him at the beach and is immediately fascinated by his unusual demeanor. Over time he develops a close relationship with Sensei and his wife and visits their home often.
The story is set just at the brink of the Meiji era’s end in Japan and revolves around the generational gap between the protagonists. Sensei has been harbouring past guilts and sorrows which even the closest to him aren’t privy to. Since I read the translation from Japanese, obviously I can’t really comment on the writing much. It was fairly simple and a one-sitting read. Initially I did not like the story. However, after finishing it and thinking through, I realized it’s a very real portrayal of human beings and maybe the reason I didn’t like it at first was because the flaws of the characters seemed too relatable. 10/10 recommend.
“There is no such thing as a stereotypical bad man in this world. Under normal conditions, everybody is more or less good, or, at least, ordinary. But tempt them, and they may suddenly change. That is what is so frightening about men.”
Trivia: The title Kokoro means ‘heart’ or more precisely, ‘the feeling heart’ in Japanese.