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Kokoro (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 23, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Kokoro is the great Japanese modern novel. The last its author completed, published in 1914, two years before his death at 48, it voices the spiritual desolation of a society that had deliberately transformed itself from quasi-feudal isolation to determinedly modern player on the world stage in little more than 50 years. The never-named narrator-hero of the novel’s first half is a provincial student in Tokyo who befriends a man some 20 years older whom he meets on a beach that is a favorite student getaway site. Well-mannered, educated, comfortable, ostensibly happily married though childless, the man, whom the narrator regularly visits once they’re both back in the city, yet exudes sadness. In the book’s second half, narrated by Sensei (i.e., mentor), as the student calls him, we learn why: he feels he betrayed a friend by first pressing his suit for the woman both love. Translator McKinney, who makes a completely stylistically modern—verbally and syntactically plain, realistic, personally voiced, intimate in tone—English-language novel of this quietly profound masterpiece, imparts in her introduction all that non-Japanese need to know to appreciate why the book is considered a national treasure. It is an international modernist treasure through sharing the aching, regretful sensibility of such works as Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Ingmar Bergman’s arguably greatest film, Winter Light. --Ray Olson

Review

"This elegant novel...suffuses the reader with a sense of old Japan."
-Los Angeles Times

"Soseki is the representative modern Japanese novelist, a figure of truly national stature."
-Haruki Murakami
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Penguin Classics edition (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143106031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143106036
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Christopher Barrett TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 30, 2012
Format: Paperback
I checked this out as an eBook from my local library since the only hard copies were the previous translations. For those who sigh at another translation, remember that Kokoro, like many classic novels are public domain of sorts. Any publisher can copy the work as long as they credit the author and don't change the original. For translations the rules are a bit more flexible. But Penguin decided they would rather translate the original than pay another publisher for the rights to their translation. I think that's fair. It's like Beethoven. You don't have to pay to use the music, but if you use someone's recording of said Beethoven piece, you need to pay them.

Kokoro is an interesting novel. It is broken down into 3 parts. It is interesting that the chapters are all nearly identical length, about 2 pages each chapter in this version. So there are 110 chapters. But it's not a terribly long read.

The first section deals with the protagonist and his relationship with 'sensei', a seemingly well to do older man. They become acquaintances and finally develop an almost father-son relationship. The second part deals with the protagonist's father who is dying and his relationship with the family. The final section is actually a memoir sent to the protagonist by 'sensei' detailing the events of his younger life and shedding light on some of the mystery behind 'sensei'.

This translation is pretty amazing. I don't read Japanese (at least Kanji though I can read some hiragana pretty well), but I do understand much of the Japanese language. It is difficult to translate not because of the actual words, but because Japanese is subject-object-verb instead of subject-verb-object as in English. So if you literally translate you will sound like Yoda.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the first novel I've read by Natsume Soseki, and my first Japanese novel at that. Although I haven't read another translation, the novel is beautifully written, being succinct yet flowery and powerful at times. Certain lines clearly and powerfully convey the feelings of Meiji Japan. Some recurring themes, such as the animosity between younger and older generations, are still relevant today. Additionally, the fact that this novel takes place in Japan during the Meiji period means it effectively captures the contrast between city and rural life. To me, this book is one I'll treasure forever; it has affected me deeply, compelling me to question my own development as a student, as well as my relationship with my father.

Additionally, because I am a casual reader I was delighted to discover that every chapter is approximately 2 pages long.

Overall, Kokoro is a Japanese classic that offers an emotional and compelling read.
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Format: Paperback
Everyone agrees Kokoro is a masterpiece of modern Japanese literature but for English readers the quality of translation from the Japanese is crucial. It should be noted that the translation of Kokoro Schwalbe chose for "The End of the World Book Club" was by Edwin McClellan, whose translations of Soseki are celebrated, not the translator of the Penguin edition. Newer is not always better.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Kokoro is a beautifully written story with a deep underlying sadness of a young man who befriends a mysterious mentor with a troubled past, which isn't revealed until after the narrator travel home to care for his dying father. This is a story of relationships and the decisions we make that can forever alter those bonds. This is novel about longing for a past we can't have, even if it causes us so much pain.

It's easy to tell that Natsume Soseki was concerned with themes of isolation, especially loneliness resulting from the rapid social changes during the Meiji Period of Japan, when Japan was rapidly adapting technology and the cultural customs of western countries. It's hard for me to relate to, but I think there are some similarities to today with how the internet has changed the dynamics of how people relate to one another. While being more and more connected in every way we are still interfacing with a screen isolated from the outside, creating a new kind of loneliness.

There's also a lot to take away from this novel as historic piece of work. One being that no western novel of the same period could ever sustain the kind of avoidance and mystery of the past for so long. By applying to the very traditional Japanese custom of discretion Soseki manages to create an atmosphere of suspense in what amounts to a slow plodding character driven novel. The other is that Meiji Period must have been very hard for much of the older and more traditional Japanese to adjust to. Ever society has a period of immense change in its history, but I get a sense that this was especially traumatic for a society like Japan that had been closed to the outside for long. A very worthwhile look at the affects of the Meiji Period.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This edition was of excellent quality and I'm glad I bought it. The introduction was informative and interesting.

The novel itself was deeply thought-provoking, exploring as it does, conflict in the human heart.

It was very sad, but clearly showed no matter our cultural differences, human beings share common emotions.

Perhaps saddest of all for me was the nature of deception within relationships, even when it is well-meaning. Sometimes, intending to protect the other, we abandon the possibility of genuine connectedness.

This remarkable Japanese classic is instructive, entertaining--brilliant!

I am so glad I read it and will read it again and explore other Japanese writers.
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