BookDragon Books for the Multi-Culti Reader

The Times of Botchan (first volume) by Jiro Taniguchi and Natsuo Sekikawa, translated by Shizuka Shimoyama and Elizabeth Tiernan

 

Times of Botchan 1Not quite a year ago, my highly revered, most beloved advisor (of my second unfinished almost-ABD-PhD) passed away. As well as being one of the most important (and groundbreaking) Japanese scholars working in English, he was – and remains – the definitive western authority on Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916). A household name in Japan if for no other reason than because he appeared on the 1000-yen note for two decades (until 2004), Sōseki is considered the most important novelist of Japan’s Meiji era (1868-1912) as well as a pivotal figure in Japanese modern literature.

I just can’t picture my august advisor in his hallowed office reading manga ever, especially in his later years (OMG! – have to sit a moment with that thought!). He was born too early to have been a manga-reader in his youth growing up in Japan (he was hapa-Japanese/Scottish). But perhaps he’s making up for lost time, and chuckling from above, head together with Sōseki himself, laughing over the imaginative antics of Sōseki’s manga self in the multi-volume The Times of Botchan.

The series begins with a 38-year-old Sōseki as he contemplates writing another novel. He has recently returned from studying in England and is now a literature professor at Tokyo Imperial University (today’s University of Tokyo, or “Todai” – Japan’s premier university). Having found a welcoming audience with his serialized story, I Am a Cat, Sōseki embarks on what will become his novel, Botchan, whose protagonist is not unlike his own self.

Sōseki is surrounded by a group of sake-loving friends, who both entertain and challenge him, as they discuss the many changes that are happening to a once closed Japanese society. Sōseki recalls some of his past experiences, vividly remembering the miseries he faced living among foreigners especially in London. Little by little, he explores potential plots, creating his characters after careful observations of the quickly changing world around him.

Funny enough, Sōseki’s own grandson, Natsume Fusanosuke, is a noted contemporary manga critic. He insists in the book’s epilogue that his grandfather was no drinker, which means “the rowdiness that Sōseki exhibits at the beginning of the story must be fictitious. Just as the encounters between the historical characters that are narrated in this work must be figments of the imagination.” But the grandson is also quick to add, “it is not my intention to disapprove of any of these inventions just because I am proud to be Sōseki’s grandson. I like the character who appears in the story and his imaginary personality, and I very much enjoyed reading it.”

I’m thinking my beloved advisor, too, is enjoying it muchly from above. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2005 (United Kingdom, United States)

Discussion

  • http://www.zencreativemarketing.com.au Graphic Design Melbourne

    Sorry for your loss.
    I have to get my hand on that book. Not sure if this the same book but one of my friends read Natsume Soseki Botchan Novel and found it stimulating and hilarious and said I have to read it since I am greatly interested in Japanese literature.
    She said if you want a true insight into Japanese society and culture with a twist, this book is a must.

    • terryhong

      The Times of Botchan is a manga series about Sōseki’s experiences writing his novel, Botchan. This is NOT Sōseki’s novel of the same name. If you’re interested, English translations of the novel are readily available, the latest being Jay Rubin’s. I’m pretty sure Rubin studied with my same advisor. And his is the definitive translation.

      So far, I’ve only read the first two volumes of this series (four volumes have been translated into English and published by British manga house Ponent Mon thus far, so more might be forthcoming). In these two manga volumes, the focus is on Sōseki, his (fictionalized) experiences and relationships, against the backdrop of the many changes shaping the Japanese psyche during the turbulent and challenging Meiji era.

      And yes, Sōseki is a GREAT way to begin exploring Japanese literature for sure!

      Thanks for visiting BookDragon. Come back again soon!

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