I’ve been trying to mix up my reading a bit and wanted to include a book in translation, I believe my first of the year. Plus, I’m always inexplicably drawn to Penguin classics. This was originally written in 1906 by Natsume Soseki, who is apparently sometimes called the father of modern Japanese fiction.

kusamakuraKusamakura (literally “The Grass Pillow”) is written from the perspective of a young artist traveling alone to the hot springs in the village of Nakoi. Once there, he is fascinated by the daughter of his host. It’s not actually a book where anything really happens, though; the author himself calls it a “haiku novel.” It consists primarily of the protagonist’s observations, impressions, and musings, reminding me almost in a way of The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

It is interesting to see life the way this artist (and the author does). Unlike when reading novels with plot, I had to remind myself from time to time to stay focused and actually acknowledge what I was reading. At one point I needed to go back a page and a half to find the last thing I remembered. I also had a bit of trouble with placing the book in context, since I don’t have much knowledge of that historical setting, but there are reference to Western works of art and poetry as well as traditional Japanese ones.

My introduction to Japanese culture, if it qualifies, was manga and anime when I was in middle school. Later on, some of my college courses touched on elements such as kabuki theater, love-suicides, and musical traditions. Even so, I always end up feeling ignorant and impressed by the lyric simplicity in Japanese writings.

Random connection: The book mentioned aronia blossoms a few times, a plant I had never heard of before. Then, while looking at shirts online for my dad, Kohl’s had named one of the colors for it’s polo aronia. It was blue.

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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