book review: sanshiro

I will admit I knew nothing about Natsume Soseki’s classic Sanshiro when I bought it. I’d seen Soseki’s name at the library, but that’s about it. I bought this book, which is an early 20th century Japanese coming-of-age story, and read it because Haruki Murakami did the new introduction for the Penguin edition. It’s been a while since I’ve read a new Murakami book and I missed him. 1Q84 is probably going to take a long time to translate so I have to settle for introductions and essays and things. Or learn to read Japanese (a project which is proceeding slowly if at all).

Murakami’s draw to this book was more than just his name though. See, he has this history of preferring Western literature. In the books/essays about him that I’ve read he talked about not really caring about Japanese literature. So this introduction of a Japanese literary classic meant it must be something special. Or he’s changed his opinion in his old age. Whatever.

The book is about a young man, Sanshiro, who comes from the country to go to university in Tokyo. It’s Meiji-era Tokyo so there are streetcars and such, but people are still wearing kimonos and the trains are far from bullet-like. Sanshiro basically wanders around to his classes and falls in love with a woman and gets embroiled in his friend’s schemes. The floatingness of the protagonist did remind me of Norwegian Wood, and would have even if the comparison hadn’t been made in the introduction, I think.

It’s a good book. I enjoyed it, but it’s not the kind of thing I’m rushing off to press into everyone’s hands. Just a quiet sitting under an elm tree watching a pond kind of book.

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