I came across Natsume Soseki by happenstance, having acquired John Updike's Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism in a wonderful little used bookstore in a small seaside town in Northern Oregon. Months later as I was flipping through the book's "The Far East" section, I found Updike in the middle of reviewing Natsume's first work: I Am a Cat. Updike, having studied the dust jacket summary of Natsume's biography, informs us that Natsume was a teacher and, in Updike's estimation rather "bookish". In Sanshiro Natsume prattles off book recommendations via his twin mouthpieces: Professor Hirota, a teacher of English literature, and the Professor's offbeat firebrand student supporters. The recommendations range from Oroonoko to The History of Intellectual Development. Natsume owned a heavily marked version of the latter, the notes section of my edition state.
Characters in Sanshiro often turn their eyes to the sky, gently folding thoughts while watching cloud formations. My edition suffers from an introduction by Murakami that poisons the later narrative. In it, Murakami reminiscences about building castles in the clouds during his threadbare days. Natsume wasn't in style during the sixties, Murakami recalls, and all the talk of revolution back then amounted to an American peace. Americans brought bubblegum with all their swagger. Natsume wrote Sanshiro during more interesting days. The Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War has just been won and Japan soon became a Major Power, shocking the West. The victory brought the peace of accomplishment and acceptance. Before the Lost Score Japan might have been feeling a similar way. In any regard, wasn't Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom becoming rich hawking Japanese cars?
Sanshiro is peppered with youthful restlessness and naivety. There are the eccentric males headed off to college to dandy about, spouting some such opinion on literature or current affairs or tastes or even trends in science. The reader is often treated to scenes of Sanshiro becoming bored during a lectures, doodling to ward off dreariness. He daydreams of women and offers up dry descriptions of their minds. Sanshiro himself comes to his own conclusions regarding his young life:
The best thing would be to bring his mother from the country, marry a beautiful woman, and devote himself to learning.
The allure of Tokyo (recently having been renamed from Edo) was strong. The cosmopolitan life denoted sophistication and renown. City life turns out to be a complex matrix of trolleys and trams, delusions and promise.
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