Kokoro

Mentioned as a classic work in Kate Beaton’s Step Aside Pops, I was intrigued by this book I’d never heard of. It’s structured in two parts, one through the eyes of a young student chasing after knowledge from a man he calls Sensei (whom he stalks at a beach resort then visits frequently in Tokyo), the second part through a long (slightly tedious) letter from Sensei to the student to explain his past before he kills himself. Sensei is mysterious in the first part, we understand something horribly tragic has happened to him to turn him away from all human society except his wife and the student. Only in the letter, we find out it’s the usual money & love trouble– inheritance stolen by an uncle, and some strange teeth-gnashing over falling in love with his future wife, but his friend K also falls in love with her, and K kills himself when he learns that Sensei is going to marry her. Yawn.
Great introduction by Meredith McKinney, setting the context for the story (pub’d in 1914) as after the tumultuous changes undergone in Japan, “such rapid change inevitably comes at a psychological cost” makes me think of what’s happening to San Francisco these days, but I digress. The author, Natsume Soseki, displays a catalog of women-hating phrases throughout:
* Upon first meeting Sensei’s wife, the student can only mention her beauty. Later, “She was not one of those modern women who takes a certain pride in calling attention to the fat that she is intelligent.”
* The student gives some clothes to Sensei’s wife to mend, and when she mentions having broken 2 needles already because they were quite difficult to sew, “For all her complaints, however, she did not seem to resent the work.” Oh, really.
* The student’s father lies dying at home. Everyone’s gathered around his bed, reminiscing. His mother “told the tale of how he had beaten her on the back with a broomstick. My brother and I had heard the story many times before…”
Words are more than vibrations:

I believe that a commonplace idea stated with passionate conviction carries more living truth than some novel observation expressed with cool indifference. It is the force of blood that drives the body, after all. Words are not just vibrations in the air, they work more powerfully than that, and on more powerful objects.