Posted June 21, 2007on:
I’m saving the bulk of my commentary for a review that could possibly appear in the next Quarterly Conversation but I was given permission to reveal some of my thoughts here. So here goes:
You’ve gotta read Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. You’ve just gotta! I should encourage you to buy the book from publishers to help keep it in print — they do come with introductions which are incredibly helpful for someone unfamiliar with this period in Japanese history (like me) so you can gain an informed base to judge the novel’s achievements — but I can’t lie to you. The entire Edwin McClellan translation is available for free on-line. The site also offers some traditional Japanese ghost stories as written by Lafcadio Hearne, the English literature professor at the Imperial University who Natsume replaced. (English lit. professors were a big deal at the time in Japan.)
I now see a way to post about the book without really posting about it. I may give little servings on things I learnt about the Meiji period, the literary movements at the time and how ideas developed on the Western and the Japanese novel. Things that will inform my review but I won’t be able to address in any great detail.
I’m reading way too many books now as you can see in my sidebar. I’m not sure what’s gotten into me. I have to re-read Kokoro now but I also want to burst my way through his oeuvre, similar to what I did last year with Murakami. (What is it with me and those Japanese authors?) At the same time I kinda started A.S Byatt’s The Djinn and the Nightingale’s Eye which is reminding me of Patricia McKillip’s Winter Rose because Byatt is riffing off a traditional tale. The first story is “The Glass Coffin” which she took from the Brothers Grimm. Her decision to always identify the characters as the “little tailor” and the “little grey man” is getting on top of my nerves though. It makes me feel five again. Hopefully things will start to get interesting.
I haven’t placed it in the sidebar yet because I’m not ready to admit that I’m reading 7 books at once. Yikes.
Did I mention that you have to read Kokoro? Because you do. It’s in the fine print of your country’s constitution/charter of rights/whatever you may so illustriously call it.