The least we can say about Natsume Soseki is that he was a complicated man. A brilliant novelist who was often depressed, he could also be irascible, cruel and even abusive. To boot, he was a narcissist and often oblivious to the most basic needs of his wife and seven children.

But, in 1910, he suffered a serious stomach illness that almost killed him, and this prompted a certain amount of soul-searching: “Everyone in this world (is) kinder than I,” he wrote remorsefully. From then on, he would strive to “become a good man.” While this was a laudable goal, it was likely beyond his reach, not because he lacked discipline or willpower — he had both in ample supply — but for a more prosaic reason: He was mentally ill.

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