Natsume Sōseki (1867–1916) was the father of the modern novel in Japan, chronicling the plight of bourgeois characters caught between familiar modes of living and the onslaught of Western values and conventions. Yet even though generations of Japanese high school students have been expected to memorize passages from his novels and he is routinely voted the most important Japanese writer in national polls, he remains less familiar to Western readers than authors such as Kawabata, Tanizaki, and Mishima.
In this biography, John Nathan provides a lucid and vivid account of a great writer laboring to create a remarkably original oeuvre in spite of the physical and mental illness that plagued him all his life. He traces Sōseki’s complex and contradictory character, offering rigorous close readings of Sōseki’s groundbreaking experiments with narrative strategies, irony, and multiple points of view as well as recounting excruciating hospital stays and recurrent attacks of paranoid delusion. Drawing on previously untranslated letters and diaries, published reminiscences, and passages from Sōseki’s fiction, Nathan renders intimate scenes of the writer’s life and distills a portrait of a tormented yet unflaggingly original author. The first full-length study of Sōseki in fifty years, Nathan’s biography elevates Sōseki to his rightful place as a great synthesizer of literary traditions and a brilliant chronicler of universal experience who, no less than his Western contemporaries, anticipated the modernism of the twentieth century.
Dubbed "Japan's first modern novelist" in this illuminating biography from Nathan (Mishima: A Biography), Natsume Soseki (1867 1916) could well have been one of the complex, tormented characters from his own novels. After a difficult childhood, in which he was foisted off on foster families until the age of nine, Soseki entered school as a student of classical Chinese before switching to English literature. In 1900, while serving as a school teacher, he was dispatched to London, an adventure that further exposed him to English literary traditions but whose profoundly alienating effect also exacerbated his mental and emotional problems which later, once Soseki was married and back living in Japan, manifested themselves in paranoid behavior toward his family and acquaintances. In analyzing the novels and stories that Soseki began turning out prolifically in 1905, Nathan cogently shows how his subject's character-driven fiction which included, perhaps most notably, I Am a Cat and Kokoro overturned traditions of Japanese literature up to that time and aligned him "with the proponents of realism who were his contemporaries in the West." Nathan's incisive portrait of Soseki as a troubled yet widely celebrated literary game changer his image adorned the 1,000 banknote in 1984 will likely drive new readers to his fiction.