Thursday, March 06, 2008

Kusamakura by Natsume Soseki

The author note tells us this is an intriguing Japanese novel by "one of Japan's most influential modern writers, [who] is considered the foremost novelist of the Meiji period (1868-1914)." He died in 1916.

Intriguing to say the least! This tale is 60% meditation on the philosophy of art, particularly poetry, 40% travelogue, and 100% pure poetry. It took me a long time to read this novel, and I loved every single, slow swallow of wonderful passages, ideas, and thoughts. Sometimes, I would read a single sentence or part of a paragraph and work it over and over in my mind. For example: "As I get back to my feet, my eyes take in the distant scene. To the left of the path soars a mountain peak, in shape rather like an inverted bucket. From foot to summit it is entirely covered in what could be either cypress or cedar, whose blue-black mass is striped and stippled with the pale pink of swaths of blossoming wild cherry. The distance is so hazy that all appears as a single wash of blurred shapes and colors" (5).

This sounds like he is describing an impressionist painting. Soseki was educated in England after graduating from the University of Tokyo. References to Western art and literature are sprinkled throughout the book.

His style resembles an ordered stream of consciousness. The novel is the story of a journey around Japan, and it is obvious the experience the narrator has far outweighs the actual walk. Soseki frequently pauses to drink in the surroundings, only to be interrupted by a fellow traveler. “I return to my thoughts,” is a frequent refrain.

One of many of my favorite passages is his musing, after becoming soaked in a cloudburst. “If I picture myself, a sodden figure moving in this vast ink-wash world of cloud and rain shot through diagonally with a thousand silver arrows, not as myself but as some other person, there’s poetry in this moment” (13).

A shipment has already arrived from Amazon with five more of his novels. So many, many books; so little time. Five stars.
--Chiron, 3/6/08

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