Nineteenth-century Japanese novel concerned with man’s loneliness in the modern world. —Amazon.com
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Regnery Publishing, Inc.
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Kokoro Review by Oliver Jia
Oliver Jia, NCTA Student Worker
Natsume Soseki is one of Japan’s most highly regarded writers and his novel Kokoro is required reading for the majority of Japanese students in their literature classes. Its title, which is often left untranslated, literally means “heart,” but encompasses far deeper meanings such as transience, loneliness, and feelings of desire which are all themes of the novel. The work is a famous tale of love, suicide, search of meaning, and Japan’s transition to modernity. This backdrop of the Meiji period’s end contextualizes Kokoro as a story written during a major period of societal change which in turn is felt by the novel’s characters.
Kokoro is a serious work, but not one that would be inappropriate for middle schoolers from the 7th or 7th grade onwards in a general literature course. However, I think that its themes would only be fully appreciated by those in the high school or early college age group. What prevents it from being given a full five stars is that the English translation, while expertly rendered by Edwin McClellan, in my opinion cannot be a true substitute for Soseki’s original Japanese prose. I also think that considerable cultural and historical knowledge of Japan is necessary to understand the motivations and context of the characters, otherwise young Western readers may feel lost at times.