Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The 210th Day by Sōseki Natsume

"It may perhaps make sparks
in the centre of Tokyo..."
Many (many) years ago I came across I Am A Cat by Sōseki Netsuke (a bookseller's nightmare considering the occidental trend to westernise Japanese names and thus oft-times finding itself in both N and S on the shelves) in a manner I can no longer remember, and was instantly smitten by its insouciance and wit. I went about flogging it to every vacillating browser I could assault in a typical fit of smittenness. In fact, you can find a link to it just below this review, down there. Click on it. It's a great book and is cheaper if you choose to purchase it on Kindle. Take a look. Just down there. You'll love it, I promise. Go on. Ahh go on. Go on, go on go on etc.

So anyway, I also went about hoovering up all the English translations of his work I could find, as is my particular peccadillo, and to stare lovingly at them as I promised, but failed, to actually read any of them. Worryingly, when recently prompted to revisit the shelves by more Eastern wonderfulness, I realised that only two very slim volumes remained; My Individualism and the Philosophical Foundations of Literature (see below. Ah go on.) and this very short novella, The 210th Day. Where were the rest? Oh, ah. Um. Yes. I gave them all away. Whoops.

So, not in the mood for literary theory, I picked this one up, and got stuck in. Thirty-five minutes later, I was back at my shelves, looking for something else to read.


No that this was terrible. Far from it. It's just that, even with the enlightening introduction, it runs to barely 90 pages*. "A relatively minor work," warns Marvin Marcus in his introduction, and an étude of sorts.

What it is, basically, is a conversation, based on a similar experience the author had with his friend, in 1899, between two characters; one with a strong opinion on inequality in society, and the other fairly well to do and with a much more laissez-faire attitude about these things (but not about having to eat udon...). The two have agreed to climb Mount Aso, an active volcano, to take a look at the white hot rocks it is reputed to eject regularly, but unfortunately, have chosen the 210th day of the lunar calendar to do so, which is, ostensibly, typically associated with storms and typhoons. They fail to make it to the top, one of them losing his hat and the other falling into a lava channel, but back at the inn, fed and watered, our former tofu-seller, the social conscience of the dialogue, convinces his friend to try again, and there the story ends.

It's fun, if brief, and has some lovely moments of humour, particularly when the maid at the inn misunderstands their food order for half-boiled (i.e. soft-boiled) eggs, and brings four, two of which are boiled hard and two of which are raw. It also has a fairly standard dichotomy of views on the rich industrial barons and the workers on the shop floor, but explored in an entertaining fashion. As a literary experiment, I can't tell you if it was successful, but as a train station diversion, a waiting room book, it has enormous merit. 

*And I paid £10.99 for it. 

  

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