Book Review: And Then by Natsume Sôseki

andthenThe immature Daisuke is the protagonist of this Japanese novel — a story of a self-inflicted decay. The setting is Japan shortly after the Russo-Japanese War in the beginning of the 20th century. The Japanese society had to deal with a conflict between traditional values against the process of modernization.

Daisuke, a young man who stems from a wealthy family background has every opportunity in life, but is not able to develop any of his talents into something fruitful.

He drowses in daytime, floats around here and there without purpose or meaning in life.

Money comes from his father or his relatives and he has also a servant in his house.

His father wants him to settle down and marry. Daisuke has all freedom for his choice, but he is unwilling to engage himself. As the time passes by and Daisuke is still unmarried in his late twenties his father puts more pressure on him. It becomes clear to Daisuke, that he is in love with the wife of his friend Hiraoka. This is the beginning of a tragedy.

Hiaroka and Daisuke have been friends since schooldays until present. Hiraoka married Michiyo, when both men were students. They have met her simultaneously and Daisuke had the opportunity to marry her himself, but did not make a serious step towards her.

The story evolves into a crisis after three years of marriage of the couple, when Daisuke suddenly breaks out with love feelings for Michiyo. And what makes it harder to understand, Daisuke had urged Hiraoka to marry her with his full consent. Nobody understands him right now. But Daisuke wants to break free and he acts out against all society‘s rules, even if he is pulling Michiyo down with him. Hiraoka, although not loving his wife, then plays tricks on Daisuke, so that in the end Daisuke loses everything.

The story is dramatic. Natsume Sôseki is a master of storytelling! He is a very good observer and has rich psychological knowledge. His characters are manifold and distinctive. The atmosphere of the story is sometimes unbearable and very nervous, but that is how the tension and feelings of the characters must have been. The narration is very detailed. I must admit, that I had some difficulties to read it to the end, because I felt it has some length to endure. I held on, because it is still very interesting though.

And Then is not my most favorite book of Natsume Sôseki, but it is nevertheless a good read.

夏目 漱石. それから. 1909. Natsume Sôseki. And Then. (Translation by Norma Moore Field, 1978).

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