“Yes, a poem, a painting, can draw the story of troubles from a troubled world and lay in its place a blessed realm before our grateful eyes.”– Natsume Soseki, Kusamakura
Natsume Soseki might soon be a new favourite of mine. This is a book I read after reading Praj’s wonderful review.
Kusamakura tells the story of an unnamed artist looking for artistic inspiration while walking through the Japanese mountains, and his encounters at the on-sen (Japanese hotspring) where he encounters the beautiful Nami.
Kusamakura is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read all year, one that hooked me from the first sentence. This book was a philosophical look at poetry, nature, beauty and art from a Japanese perspective, often contrasting that perspective a lot more favourably than with other perspectives. Though not an artist myself, as an art-lover I could appreciate the opportunity of looking into the mind of an artist, and viewing his thought process.
As trite as this may sound I realize that Japanese literature speaks to my soul on a deeper level. I really think it has a lot to do with my introvertism. Authors like Soseki, Tanizaki and Mishima have a very introspective way of looking at things, beauty in particular, and it’s something I can really relate to.
Several adjectives came to mind while I read this. Delicate was one,calming and elegant were others.
I didn’t agree with Soseki’s negative critique of Chinese art and European literature though:
“All such Chinese household furnishings, indeed, have the same rather dull and unimaginative quality. One is forced to the conclusion that they’re the inventions of a race of patient and slightly slow-witted people.”
And this is just conjecture here, but as this book was written in the same year as Okakura’s “The Book of Tea”, it does seem to me that both authors were worried about foreign influence on Japanese culture and were looking at ways to show the superiority of Japanese art. I can’t side with one form over the other as I believe all art forms are valid and carry different energies and emotions. It’s a pity Soseki didn’t look at it in this way.
Apart from that little gripe this book was wonderful. I’m really looking forward to reading more Soseki.