Peering into the great human divide between the isolated self and the need for emotional validation, Natsume Soseki’s “Kokoro” is a psychological glimpse into the “heart of things” that defies easy categorization: It is not a love story, although it retells a love story; it’s not a coming-of-age tale, although a younger man seeks counsel from an older teacher; nor is it merely a philosophical musing on familial obligation during Japan’s period of modernization. Rather it is in the blend of all three that Soseki offers a glimpse into the complex workings of the human heart.

In style, too, “Kokoro” is hard to categorize. The first two sections are narrated by a young university student who befriends an older man he spies on a beach in Kamakura talking to a foreigner. While the last section of the novel is a letter from this older man, whom the narrator calls Sensei, explaining an event that occurred when he was young. There is no response from our original narrator, no typical resolution; the reader is left, like the narrator himself, to take Sensei’s epistle without any further explanation.

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