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A novel by Natsume Soseki

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Kokoro--A Book With Heart

  • Jun 5, 2010

Kokoro takes place in the early 1900's, and deals with a college student who becomes infatuated with a man who he calls Sensei--Sensei means "teacher" in Japanese, but the term can be used to apply to anyone who you learn something from, and Sensei is not actually the young man's teacher. The young man (who is not named in this novel) wants to learn all that he can about Sensei's life, but Sensei, for the most part, refuses to tell his life story, for fear that the young man will hate him.

Eventually the young man is forced to leave college to attend to his dying father. His parents ask him to write to Sensei in the hopes that he will help their son find a job, and instead of responding to that query, Sensei responds with a detailed account of his life story, which accounts for the second half of the book.

This book is beautifully and subtly written. Sensei's story is just as engaging as the story of the college student, and the emotional depth of both characters is incredible. The title means, essentially, "heart" or "emotion" and that is essentially what this story is about. It is a wonderful study of human nature, as well as an engaging look into Japanese culture in the early 1900's.

The only problem I have with this book is the abrupt shift from the college student's POV to Sensei's. The college student experiences the death of his father, and he is also struggling to figure out a career for himself, and we never get to see that resolved or how he deals with his immense loss. At first, it is difficult to fully immerse oneself in Sensei's story, because one is left wondering about what happened to the college student. Still, Sensei's story is interesting enough that one eventually forgets about that and gets involved anyway. Overall, this is a fantastic story.

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Anna Lindwasser ()
Ranked #1391
Hello there! My name is Anna. I'm a NYC transplant living in upstate New York, currently dividing her time between trying to find a job and get into graduate school, reading and working on my own … more
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Kokoro (こゝろ?, or in post-war orthography こころ) is a novel by the Japanese author Natsume Sōseki. It was first published in 1914 in serial form in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun. While the title literally means "heart", the word contains shades of meaning, and can be translated as "the heart of things" or "feeling". The work deals with the transition from the Japanese Meiji society to the modern era, by exploring the friendship between a young man and an older man he calls "Sensei"(Or teacher). It continues the theme of isolation developed in Soseki's immediately preceding works, here in the context of interwoven strands of egoism and guilt, as opposed to shame. Other important themes in the novel include the changing times (particularly the modernization of Japan in the Meiji era), the changing roles and ideals of women, and intergenerational change in values, the role of family, the importance of the self versus the group, the cost of weakness, and identity.

During the novel's initial serial run, from April 20 to August 11, 1914, it was printed under the title Kokoro: Sensei no Isho ((心 先生の遺書, Kokoro: Sensei's Testament?). When later published in novel form by Iwanami Shoten, its title was shortened to Kokoro; the rendering of the word "kokoro" itself was also changed from kanji (心) to hiragana (こゝろ).
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Cafe Libri, Japan, Japanese Literature, Natsume Soseki, Kokoro


Author: Natsume Soseki
Genre: All Japanese Books

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