Sōseki

Modern Japan's Greatest Novelist

John Nathan

Columbia University Press

Sōseki

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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.
Nathan, a master translator and a gifted storyteller. . . . paints a portrait of this singular man based mostly on primary sources, accompanied by convincing textual analyses of the novelist’s representative works. The result is an accessible account of a tortured, difficult and yet ultimately irresistible soul that is touching even to those who are not yet familiar with the pleasures of Sōseki’s writing. Eri Hotta, Times Literary Supplement
[Natsume Sōseki's] life and work are explored insightfully in John Nathan’s outstanding and cohesive literary biography. Eileen Battersby, Financial Times
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
A vivid portrait of Sōseki’s anxious and troubled life, of his violent mood swings, as well as of the chaos that constantly lurked just below the surface, ready to explode at any moment. Martin LaFlamme, Japan Times
A vibrant portrayal of the transformation of a modern Japan as witnessed through the story of one of that country’s best writers. International Examiner
A fine biographical work that also helpfully covers Sōseki's major works in quite good depth, Sōseki is a solid and interesting biography M.A. Orthofer, Complete Review
Anyone with an interest in Japanese literature will enjoy the book. Not only is it a nice introduction to his work, but it also provides fascinating insights into a life cut short. As such, Sōseki: Modern Japan’s Greatest Novelist is a work to be recommended, an easy read about a great writer. Tony's Reading List
[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
This biography and literary study describes a difficult, demanding man, plagued by poor physical and mental health, yet one who was also a master stylist with an extraordinary gift. Times Higher Education
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
In John Nathan’s excellent and very readable new biography, Sōseki: Modern Japan’s Greatest Novelist, the first English-language biography of the writer’s life in fifty years, we are given a portrait of a complex, troubled individual who spent his career resisting black-and-white interpretations. Angela Qian, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal
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.