Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sanshiro, by Natsume Soseki

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Japanese author Natsume Soseki's Sanshiro is a deeply felt coming-of-age story.

Ogawa Sanshiro is a young student in his early twenties. Shy, awkward and unsure of himself, the novel opens with Sanshiro travelling by train to Tokyo. He is about to start his studies at the University of Tokyo. On the train he meets various interesting characters, but his shyness means he is unable to assert himself enough to take advantage of these social situations. Most notably, he is offered a chance at intimacy with a young woman he meets on the train. When Sanshiro sidesteps the invitation, she playfully calls him a coward.

Once at the university, Sanshiro starts to make a circle of friends, including students, artists, scientists and one of the professors. He also engages in an affectionate friendship with the fellow student Mineko. She is a rather mysterious girl, a bit of a riddle. The two move together in tentative steps, one assumes to build a romantic relationship, but question marks appear when Sanshiro sees her with a handsome male suitor.

Sanshiro is a dreamy, intimate, mesmerising novel. First published in 1908, it is also fascinating for its descriptions of Japanese society at the time. There is not much action. The story is a gentle and calming one played out in intellectual conversations, nights at the theatre, quiet nature walks and the convivial meeting of friends. Where there is action it is derived from the intensity of the relationships. Natsume Soseki does a wonderful of job of describing those halting, uncertain conversations, where we try to make our way in unfamiliar social situations.

A deeply felt coming-of-age story that encapsulates the personal uncertainties and anxieties of youth.

Sanshiro, by Natsume Soseki. Translated by Jay Rubin. Published by Penguin. ISBN: 9780241284469 RRP: $19.99

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