Kokoro by Natsume Soseki was first written in 1914 but it reads as a timeless story albeit tied to a defining era. Published two years before Soseki’s death, this book is threaded with seemingly autobiographical content if you were to explore Soseki’s own life. However, despite the connections that can be easily made, I often think it best to keep the author separate and let the text stand on its own.
That being said, I believe Kokoro is a good book for multiple reasons. The first and foremost being that the story is relatively short but overall is contemplative of life itself. The title roughly translates to, or is meant to mean, “the heart of things” and the story arguably centers around interpersonal interaction, the meaning of life in relation to those around us and those of different generations, the meaning of friendship, of love, and many other aspects of humanity as both singular and as a whole. Thus the title seems very fitting. How can all this be present in one novel, you may ask? Well, a book is simply an independent link between a writer and a reader. The reader brings their own experiences and history to a book. Once the book is out in the world, it no longer changes and the writer’s initial intentions may or may not remain as the text survives them. In other words, the writer is both of the utmost importance to the book but is also immaterial once it takes on a life of its own.
Which brings me to the second thing I enjoyed about this book. Since it was written over one hundred years ago, the book acts as a time-capsule into the past. Not the same as a history book. This story is fiction. Though I said earlier that it reads mostly as a modern novel, partly in thanks to the translation by Edwin McClellan, it is set in Japan in or around 1914 and therefore reflects the era in which it was written. Reading a story that had no concept of our modern day technology can help put our own era into perspective. For example, there are no telephones present in this story because they were not commonly available at that time. Letters were the main form of communication and therefore meant news would take days to reach someone. Something we can readily forget when we are connected or available at a moment’s notice every second of the day. Reading a story where there is no immediate connection or ability to access information at the touch of a screen can be relaxing. If I’m honest, it is a good reminder that we don’t have to be connected at all times and that we should take time away from the screen. Either to contemplate why they exist or to forget them entirely. Another reason to enjoy physical books.
Seeing the world through another lens is often a good thing. It lends perspective and can help a reader learn more about the world we live in or more about themselves and their place in the world. This book I think does both. Which is why I am recommending it. It definitely is a book that you can take a lot away from, but at the same time only if you open yourself to the story. Each person may experience the story quite differently and take away different perspectives. You may read the book and find it boring or insightful. You may not finish it or it may be the best book you read this year. My only hope is that you are at least intrigued enough to consider reading it, especially if you had never heard of the book or this author before now.