Kokoro [Natsume Soseki]

“What they did to me I shall remember as long as I live. But I have never taken any revenge on them. When I think about it, I have done somethind much worse than that. I have come not only to hate them, but the human race in general. That is quite enough, I think”
Not even words of consolation came to my lips

A young student strikes up a friendship with an older married man he calls Sensei in Tokyo. Despite his warm friendship, the student is unable to coax the reason for the secluded melancholy of Sensei’s life, until it is revealed at an extremely delicate moment of his own.

One of the best novels by one of Japan’s great writers, Kokoro is a sparse look at guilt and loneliness and how they can swallow your very existence.

I found Kokoro a slow burning book and it took me a while to get into it.  Sometimes I felt like there was a wall between me and the two protagonists and I felt I should have been noting certain things which would become key later, but I wasn’t sure which ones.  This is more of a reflection of my lack of understanding Japanese character and culture than anything else, even the basis of the novel, the friendship between the student and Sensei, I found unlikely, yet I do not know if this is a normal occurrence in Japan.

The student mildly annoyed me with the constant dismissal of his family while exalting Sensei, yet at the same time I completely understood him and his desire to break out of the confines of his background and tradition.  The middle section of the book focuses on his family, his own heart, and is very moving, as by this point he has placed Sensei above his own parents, but still cannot ignore the bonds that tie him to his home.

Sensei himself is an aloof enigma through the first half of the book, but who we come to understand as we read his testament.  He realises for him to try and redeem himself he must take the offer of unconditional friendship from this younger man and share his heart with him, and hope he takes it into his own.

While I enjoyed Kokoro I feel that I have missed so much more of it through my lack of cultural understanding, but I am still eyeing up some of Natsume Soseki’s other novels, so perhaps he has found his way into my heart after all.


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