Sōseki

Modern Japan's Greatest Novelist

John Nathan

Columbia University Press

Sōseki

Pub Date: May 2018

ISBN: 9780231171427

344 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£27.00

Pub Date: May 2018

ISBN: 9780231546973

344 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£27.00

Sōseki

Modern Japan's Greatest Novelist

John Nathan

Columbia University Press

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.
Comprehensive and discerning. . . . A revealing portrait of a writer who deserves a new audience. Kirkus Reviews
Sōseki captures the soul of Japan’s greatest modern writer in the best tradition of biography. Here the venerated figure comes fully alive with his infuriating failings and astounding intelligence, his maddening ambitions and biting self-deprecations. The book also offers a vibrant portrayal of Japan’s rapidly transforming society—an extraordinary feast. Minae Mizumura, author of Inheritance from Mother
[An] illuminating biography. . . . Nathan’s incisive portrait of Sōseki 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. Publishers Weekly
Nathan offers a lucid view of the life and works of the writer many consider to be Japan’s most important, and best, novelist. He deftly shows how Sōseki's life reflects the many social and intellectual changes that occurred over the tumultuous decades of his lifetime—decades of Japan’s transformation into a modern nation. Alan Tansman, University of California, Berkeley
It’s been half a century since the appearance of the most recent English-language biography of Natsume Sōseki, one of the giants of twentieth-century world literature, so the arrival of John Nathan’s fine new study is cause for celebration. Sōseki's life story often reads like one of his novels, and Nathan captures it in prose worthy of his subject. Michael Bourdaghs, University of Chicago
Preface
Acknowledgments
1. Beginnings
2. School Days
3. Words
4. The Provinces
5. London
6. Home Again
7. I Am a Cat
8. Smaller Gems
9. The Thursday Salon
10. A Professional Novelist
11. Sanshirō
12. A Pair of Novels
13. Crisis at Shuzenji
14. A Death in the Family
15. Einsamkeit
16. Grass on the Wayside
17. The Final Year
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Index

About the Author

John Nathan is the Takashima Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Mishima: A Biography (1974) and Sony: The Private Life (1999), among others. He is the translator of Sōseki’s last novel, Light and Dark (Columbia, 2014), as well as of works by Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburō Ōe. Nathan is also an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker.