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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Natsume Sōseki

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Botchan

Title: Botchan
Author: Natsume Sōseki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1906 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 172 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Botchan - US
Botchan - UK
Botchan - Canada
Botchan - France
Der Tor aus Tokio - Deutschland
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Botchan - España
  • Japanese title: 坊っちゃん
  • Translated (2005) and with an Introduction by Joel Cohn
  • Previously available in English translations by Umeji Sasaki (1967) and Alan Turney (1972)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a bit simple, but entertaining and winning

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Sunday Times* . 11/3/1973 .
The Times* . 1/3/1973 George Hill
TLS* . 30/3/1973 Geoffrey Bownas

* review refers to an earlier translation

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) pleasantly beguiling story" - The Sunday Times

  • "Botchan by Natsume Soseki is probably not going to split many sides over here, but its effect is anything but foreign." - George Hill, The Times

  • "Alan Turney faced a daunting task as translator. Not all the jokes come across today in Japanese and there is a fair number of quite impossible puns. But even allowing for these and other difficulties, the translation is by no means fluent." - Geoffrey Bownas, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Botchan the narrator recounts his life, focussing mainly on the short period he spent as a teacher in the Japanese countryside. His childhood wasn't particularly pleasant, with his older brother the favoured child, and the only person he has any real affection for is the family maid, Kiyo. She looks out for him -- and is the one who call's him 'Botchan', even after he's probably outgrown the nickname -- and dreams of one day going to live and work in his home when he's grown up.
       First his mother and eventually his father dies, and Botchan at least receives enough from the inheritance to make himself independent. He vacillates between setting up a business and getting an education, and eventually decides on getting a degree. In deciding what to study (as elsewhere) his impulsiveness is on prominent display:

I happened to walk past the Institute of Physical Sciences and saw a sign saying STUDENTS WANTED. This, I figured, was meant to be, so I took a look at their list of regulations, and signed up right then and there.
       He lucks into a teaching job after he graduates, and sets out for the provinces.
       Botchan has an attitude problem, and this makes for much of the appeal of the novel. His lack of respect (he'll show it, where need be, but he's entirely unimpressed by the hollow rituals of respect so widespread in Japan) must be especially shocking (and subversively appealing) to Japanese readers, but even those not familiar with that specific culture can appreciate his no-nonsense attitude -- especially given the amount of nonsense around him.
       Botchan is entirely unimpressed by the people he has to deal with. He's also -- as he's the first to admit -- a bit slow on the uptake ("I may have courage, but I don't have the brains to match"), so he's never entirely sure where he stands as the other teachers (and his landlords and students) maneuver around him. He's also a man of honour -- and, as far as he can tell, no one else around him is. Told to consider his career before taking a decisive step he is outraged: "Who cares about my record ? Doing what's right is more important." But it's definitely not the prevalent philosophy and, needless to say, Botchan's attitude -- amplified by an against-the-grain mentality -- keeps him in considerable trouble.
       Botchan is a loner, though he can get along with others when he has to. He claims: "I had already come to the conclusion that I wasn't the kind of person that anybody could like", and while that's probably not true he certainly does make it hard for people to take to him, his rectitude and quick temper (and urbanite sense of superiority) making him anything but an easy-going guy. He seems never to have had any friends, and doesn't really make any here; Kiyo, waiting for him in Tokyo, is the only sort of anchor he has
       The descriptions of school life and politics are entertaining. The narrative shifts around, the emphasis on specific episodes such as the pranks the students pull on him and some of the affairs of the other teachers. A sympathetic narrator, prone to rash acts, Botchan's story of his life as a teacher is bumpy (and comes to a fairly quick and somewhat simplistic conclusion) but entertaining. And despite Botchan's negativism (and quite a few bad things that happen), it's also surprisingly cheerful, a nice mix of the serious and comic that help make the book particularly winning.
       A bit rough in its telling, Botchan is a quick and enjoyable read.

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Botchan: Reviews: Natsume Sōseki: Other books by Natsume Sōseki under review: Books about Natsume Sōseki under review:
  • John Nathan's Sōseki: Modern Japan's Greatest Novelist
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石; actually: Natsume Kinnosuke) lived 1867 to 1916 and was the leading Japanese author of the Meiji era.

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