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Botchan (Penguin Classics) Paperback – March 26, 2013
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Soseki's lightest and funniest work -- Donald Keene This rollicking rebel, and the spice and pace of the narrative, will appeal to parent, teacher, and schoolchild alike * Times Literary Supplement *
About the Author
NATSUME SOSEKI (1867-1916) is one of the best-known Japanese authors of the 20th century and considered as the master of psychological fiction. He wrote 14 novels. As well as his works of fiction, his essays, haiku, and kanshi have been influential and are popular even today.
J. COHN studied Japanese at Cornell and Harvard universities, as well as in Japan, and now teaches Japanese literature at the University of Hawaii. He is the author of a study on the comic spirit in modern Japanese fiction.
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The main character, who is called "Botchan" (a Japanese nickname for "boy" that is explained in greater detail in the introduction) by an overly-affectionate house maid while growing up, is a somewhat block-headed 22 year old that has started as a mathematics teacher in a rural town. His early life and the sequence of events that leads him to this career seem haphazard and a product of his own apathy, like a pinball careening through a machine, powerless to alter its path. One cannot help but feel like some determinism pushes him through the story and one wonders why his attempts at gaining control are so clumsy and poorly executed. Botchan is never the subject of our sympathy or our scorn, but is a source of bemusement. The story is certainly a quick read (145 pages in 12.25pt font) as Soseki does a good job keeping the forces behind Botchan's trials and tribulations just out of reach.
The story, which does not seem very deep on a first pass, does offer a lot for reflection and would probably be fun for discussion. Just as an eastern reader might benefit from reading Huckleberry Finn, the western reader might be intrigued by the regional and classist stereotypes that are applied throughout the story. Botchan, being born and raised in Tokyo, has a serious chip on his shoulder and might be comparable to a young New Yorker who is sent to a rural southern town to teach. However, these comparisons only go so far, and the reader interested in understanding what 1900 Japan might've been like will enjoy picking out the details on their own.