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"Rich in understanding and insight."—The New Yorker
What is love, and what is friendship? What is the extent of our responsibility to ourselves and to others? Kokoro, signifying "the heart of things," examines these age-old questions in terms of the modern world.
A trilogy of stories that explores the very essence of loneliness, Kokoro opens with "Sensei and I," in which the narrator recounts his relationship with an intellectual who dwells in isolation but maintains a sophisticated worldview. "My Parents and I" brings the reader into the narrator's family circle, and "Sensei and His Testament" features the eponymous character's explanation of how he came to live a life of solitude.
Natsume Soseki (1867–1916), perhaps the greatest novelist of the Meiji period, remains one of Japan's most widely read authors. He wrote this novel in 1914, at the peak of his career, and it remains an excellent introduction to modern Japanese literature.
Published: Dover Publications on
ISBN: 9780486122588
List price: $10.95
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"How can I escape,except through faith,madness or death?"

Kokoro is an epic melodrama of isolation and self-inflicted guilt. A beautiful heartfelt experience from the exploring friendship between a young graduate student and his mentor(Sensei).Soseki brilliantly unveils an intricate web of egoism,guilt,temptations and loneliness through various anecdotes on Sensei's reclusive living. No wonder Soseki succeeded Lafacdio Hearn as a lecturer in English Literature in the Imperial University(1903).more
It's a classic revered among the Japanese. Even though it did not disappoint me in any way, I must say that I did not enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed books by Kawabata or Tanizaki. Not to mention Murakami, but he is a different era altogether. Kokoro means heart in Japanese, and it stands for not only the physical heart but also for the metaphorical heart of the matter and the spiritual center of being. In the book, it can be taken to mean all of the above, and some aspects of it can even be reminiscent of the Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, which gives it still an additional dimension. It also comes from roughly the same historical period as Poe’s work, the time when Japan was in transition- it started to open itself to the West. Soseki studied and lived in England for some period as well, and it’s reflected in the book where typical and traditional Japanese values and behaviours intermingle with the Western stress on the individual. The book starts slowly and progresses at a languid pace until it suddenly develops towards the end and then it gathers great speed and is as unstoppable as a freight train. An interesting read altogether, but I doubt it will ever become my favourite.more
[Kokoro] was published in 1914 and, according to the introduction to my edition, is considered “one of Japan’s great modern novels.” In a testimony to the strength of [[Natsume Soseki]]’s writing, I found the book to be a page-turner. Oddly, not much happens in the story and all of the characters are pretty drippy. The book focuses on interpersonal relationships and the responsibilities of friendship. Kokoro has a unusual structure. It is divided into two parts. In the first part the narrator describes his friendship with an older man who he calls “Sensei” or teacher. The narrator also chronicles his own father’s serious illness. The narrator has a distant relationship with his parents; who seem to represent a traditional, more rural Japan. Sensei is urbane, but feels empty. It seems bizarre that anyone would cultivate a teacher/student relationship with Sensei, who never does anything. The second half of the book is a letter from Sensei to the narrator. In the letter he gives the back-story and explains his passivity. I read this book right after reading [Norwegian Wood] and was struck by many similar themes. On the back of the book, (translation by Meredith McKinney). Murakami is quoted as saying “Soseki is the representative modern Japanese novelist, a figure of truly national stature.”Definitely a book that made me think. I would highly recommend it.more
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.more
I couldn't put this book down, which is odd, since is has very little plot. The subtle but effective character development really drew me in. There is also a feeling of dread that is felt from the beginning but that gets more and more oppressive and desperate right up to the end. I had to continue reading to find out what happened, but at the same time, deep inside I knew exactly what happened from the start and read on to try to prevent the inevitable. Given the themes of the novel, I assume this was an intentional effect. I also found it amusing that in Part 3, when Sensei was young, I forgot that young Sensei and original narrator were different characters. Again, likely a brilliant ruse by Soseki. I am not familiar enough with Japanese history to appreciate the grander picture of this novel, but on its own, it's still a wonderful read. 4.5 starsmore
Great book. It was such a simple story but I was kept interested as it slowly unfolded as to the reason the Sensei was so withdrawn and untrusting of others. The ending was very thought provoking as well.more
This seemed to me to be the Japanese Great Gatsby. I enjoyed it a lot.more
I had to read this for a class a few years ago. Very interesting. A Japanese classic.more
This book changed my life. It was being discarded by my high school library and I scooped it up to read. As a high schooler who felt separated and apart from my classmates, Sensei's quiet acceptance of the narrator and his distant manner attracted me in a powerful way, and as I read I also began to think of him as my own personal Sensei. When I finished the book I felt as if I had been struck, but was not yet old enough to really understand the immensity of this work.I brought Kokoro with me to Japan when I studied abroad. There I struggled again to find connection and meaning in my life, and during a particularly depressing day I sat down and read Kokoro cover to cover. It has been said that when we read we are searching for ourselves. I found myself in Kokoro. The feelings within the novel, and the way they are expressed, resonate with me in a way that no other book has managed. When I feel sad and alone I think of Sensei, and I am not alone anymore.Kokoro is a much more complex novel than what my gushing might suggest. It isn't melodramatic. It isn't overly emotional. It is restrained and intensely introspective. Kokoro spurred my love of Japanese literature, I think it is a terrible shame that more people aren't exposed to this masterpiece. I look for excuses to suggest it to pretty much everyone I meet, and I would certainly suggest it to anyone who is looking for a book representing the finest fiction that the East has to offer.more
If you want to understand Japan's cultural, social and ethical transformation during Meiji period, you have to read this book.Oh, and the new translation available at Penguin Press is completely fine.more
Soseki's "I Am A Cat" seems to get all the attention but this is a far superior work. Perhaps it could be structured better, less arbitrarily, but that's my only (minor) complaint. Both the voice of the narrator and the melancholy surrounding Sensei draw you in to this little world, their private lives. A simple, enthralling tale, very well written (and translated) which shouldn't be missed by anyone interested in Japanese literature.more
An insight into the mind of a man «of the past» entering Japanese modernity. This intimate book illustrates the clash between two generations of Japanese men (I emphasize on MEN since this book really sets women apart)... This is a highly philosophical book, not in a theorical way, but in it's capacity of finding a way to explain through a simple voice the change that took place with the end of an «obsolete», or traditional, way of thinking the world (in contradiction to the «modern world») in Japan.I think one needs to have at least minimal knowledge of Japanese history and philosophy to appreciate what this novel is about.Worth rereading, since this book is about a lot more than a simple character's story.more
Japanese writers have this knack of tugging at one’s heartstrings. They expressed deep and honest sentiment without too much fuss. Their honesty is their own subtlety. They can avoid sentimentalism by hiding under its veil. Soseki is one such writer, and in ‘Kokoro’ he has given us an anatomy of loneliness and mortality. The existential pain is muted, as if dampening the piercing cries of a melodrama, only to produce a howling silence. The novel is divided into three parts, all told in the first person point of view. The first two were related by a student, and the last part by Sensei, his newfound friend who in some ways he considered his mentor. The character of Sensei lies at the heart of ‘Kokoro’, which in the foreword the translator Edwin McClellan said a word that means ‘the heart of things.’ The book gave us a portrait of the man Sensei, how he came to be an aloof and detached man that he was and how he came to have such a singularly bleak worldview where men are always suspect and were out to get the better of his fellowmen. It can be said that ‘Kokoro’ is a product of its time, with its reference to the passing Meiji era and to certain famous personalities of the Japanese empire at that time. It is less a eulogy to the past era than a meditation on what it all amounted to. It illuminates some of the customs and norms of Japan (including its depiction of gender relations) at the turn of the 20th century. However, in its modern (existentialist) treatment of the themes of friendship, love, betrayal, and guilt, the book remains as timeless as can be.more
Read all 14 reviews

Reviews

"How can I escape,except through faith,madness or death?"

Kokoro is an epic melodrama of isolation and self-inflicted guilt. A beautiful heartfelt experience from the exploring friendship between a young graduate student and his mentor(Sensei).Soseki brilliantly unveils an intricate web of egoism,guilt,temptations and loneliness through various anecdotes on Sensei's reclusive living. No wonder Soseki succeeded Lafacdio Hearn as a lecturer in English Literature in the Imperial University(1903).more
It's a classic revered among the Japanese. Even though it did not disappoint me in any way, I must say that I did not enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed books by Kawabata or Tanizaki. Not to mention Murakami, but he is a different era altogether. Kokoro means heart in Japanese, and it stands for not only the physical heart but also for the metaphorical heart of the matter and the spiritual center of being. In the book, it can be taken to mean all of the above, and some aspects of it can even be reminiscent of the Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, which gives it still an additional dimension. It also comes from roughly the same historical period as Poe’s work, the time when Japan was in transition- it started to open itself to the West. Soseki studied and lived in England for some period as well, and it’s reflected in the book where typical and traditional Japanese values and behaviours intermingle with the Western stress on the individual. The book starts slowly and progresses at a languid pace until it suddenly develops towards the end and then it gathers great speed and is as unstoppable as a freight train. An interesting read altogether, but I doubt it will ever become my favourite.more
[Kokoro] was published in 1914 and, according to the introduction to my edition, is considered “one of Japan’s great modern novels.” In a testimony to the strength of [[Natsume Soseki]]’s writing, I found the book to be a page-turner. Oddly, not much happens in the story and all of the characters are pretty drippy. The book focuses on interpersonal relationships and the responsibilities of friendship. Kokoro has a unusual structure. It is divided into two parts. In the first part the narrator describes his friendship with an older man who he calls “Sensei” or teacher. The narrator also chronicles his own father’s serious illness. The narrator has a distant relationship with his parents; who seem to represent a traditional, more rural Japan. Sensei is urbane, but feels empty. It seems bizarre that anyone would cultivate a teacher/student relationship with Sensei, who never does anything. The second half of the book is a letter from Sensei to the narrator. In the letter he gives the back-story and explains his passivity. I read this book right after reading [Norwegian Wood] and was struck by many similar themes. On the back of the book, (translation by Meredith McKinney). Murakami is quoted as saying “Soseki is the representative modern Japanese novelist, a figure of truly national stature.”Definitely a book that made me think. I would highly recommend it.more
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.more
I couldn't put this book down, which is odd, since is has very little plot. The subtle but effective character development really drew me in. There is also a feeling of dread that is felt from the beginning but that gets more and more oppressive and desperate right up to the end. I had to continue reading to find out what happened, but at the same time, deep inside I knew exactly what happened from the start and read on to try to prevent the inevitable. Given the themes of the novel, I assume this was an intentional effect. I also found it amusing that in Part 3, when Sensei was young, I forgot that young Sensei and original narrator were different characters. Again, likely a brilliant ruse by Soseki. I am not familiar enough with Japanese history to appreciate the grander picture of this novel, but on its own, it's still a wonderful read. 4.5 starsmore
Great book. It was such a simple story but I was kept interested as it slowly unfolded as to the reason the Sensei was so withdrawn and untrusting of others. The ending was very thought provoking as well.more
This seemed to me to be the Japanese Great Gatsby. I enjoyed it a lot.more
I had to read this for a class a few years ago. Very interesting. A Japanese classic.more
This book changed my life. It was being discarded by my high school library and I scooped it up to read. As a high schooler who felt separated and apart from my classmates, Sensei's quiet acceptance of the narrator and his distant manner attracted me in a powerful way, and as I read I also began to think of him as my own personal Sensei. When I finished the book I felt as if I had been struck, but was not yet old enough to really understand the immensity of this work.I brought Kokoro with me to Japan when I studied abroad. There I struggled again to find connection and meaning in my life, and during a particularly depressing day I sat down and read Kokoro cover to cover. It has been said that when we read we are searching for ourselves. I found myself in Kokoro. The feelings within the novel, and the way they are expressed, resonate with me in a way that no other book has managed. When I feel sad and alone I think of Sensei, and I am not alone anymore.Kokoro is a much more complex novel than what my gushing might suggest. It isn't melodramatic. It isn't overly emotional. It is restrained and intensely introspective. Kokoro spurred my love of Japanese literature, I think it is a terrible shame that more people aren't exposed to this masterpiece. I look for excuses to suggest it to pretty much everyone I meet, and I would certainly suggest it to anyone who is looking for a book representing the finest fiction that the East has to offer.more
If you want to understand Japan's cultural, social and ethical transformation during Meiji period, you have to read this book.Oh, and the new translation available at Penguin Press is completely fine.more
Soseki's "I Am A Cat" seems to get all the attention but this is a far superior work. Perhaps it could be structured better, less arbitrarily, but that's my only (minor) complaint. Both the voice of the narrator and the melancholy surrounding Sensei draw you in to this little world, their private lives. A simple, enthralling tale, very well written (and translated) which shouldn't be missed by anyone interested in Japanese literature.more
An insight into the mind of a man «of the past» entering Japanese modernity. This intimate book illustrates the clash between two generations of Japanese men (I emphasize on MEN since this book really sets women apart)... This is a highly philosophical book, not in a theorical way, but in it's capacity of finding a way to explain through a simple voice the change that took place with the end of an «obsolete», or traditional, way of thinking the world (in contradiction to the «modern world») in Japan.I think one needs to have at least minimal knowledge of Japanese history and philosophy to appreciate what this novel is about.Worth rereading, since this book is about a lot more than a simple character's story.more
Japanese writers have this knack of tugging at one’s heartstrings. They expressed deep and honest sentiment without too much fuss. Their honesty is their own subtlety. They can avoid sentimentalism by hiding under its veil. Soseki is one such writer, and in ‘Kokoro’ he has given us an anatomy of loneliness and mortality. The existential pain is muted, as if dampening the piercing cries of a melodrama, only to produce a howling silence. The novel is divided into three parts, all told in the first person point of view. The first two were related by a student, and the last part by Sensei, his newfound friend who in some ways he considered his mentor. The character of Sensei lies at the heart of ‘Kokoro’, which in the foreword the translator Edwin McClellan said a word that means ‘the heart of things.’ The book gave us a portrait of the man Sensei, how he came to be an aloof and detached man that he was and how he came to have such a singularly bleak worldview where men are always suspect and were out to get the better of his fellowmen. It can be said that ‘Kokoro’ is a product of its time, with its reference to the passing Meiji era and to certain famous personalities of the Japanese empire at that time. It is less a eulogy to the past era than a meditation on what it all amounted to. It illuminates some of the customs and norms of Japan (including its depiction of gender relations) at the turn of the 20th century. However, in its modern (existentialist) treatment of the themes of friendship, love, betrayal, and guilt, the book remains as timeless as can be.more
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