BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

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

Times of Botchan 2The fictionalized account of the literary adventures of revered Japanese writer Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916) continues in the next installment of the multi-volume Times of Botchan. Sōseki leaves a literary discussion group-of-sorts debating the merits of contemporary poetry with new ideas for his novel-in-progress, Botchan. He literally brushes up with political history, bumping into a would-be Korean assassin ready to take action against Japanese leaders for their colonization of his peninsular nation. Turbulent times are coming  …

Growing western presence at home and nationalist imperialism abroad mark the beginning of unsettling 20th century for Japan. Sōseki’s classrooms become arenas of debate. His colleagues’ lives are moving in different directions, some even leaving Tokyo (especially to escape a broken heart). Meanwhile, Sōseki’s contemporary Shimazaki Tōson publishes an important new novel, The Broken Commandment, which quickly proves to be a critical success. All the while, Sōseki is shrewdly collecting experiences and characters that will shape his Botchan, while he debates if he might quit his teaching positions to finally become a full-time writer.

At volume’s end, you’ll find two informative essays by the series’ writer, Sekikawa. The first, “The 38th year of the Meiji Period and the making of ‘I am a Cat,'” gives a historically-sensitive version of Sōseki’s 38th year of Meiji, or 1905 in our western calendar: “The circumstances under which Sōseki was living until he decided, in November of the 38th year of the Meiji Period, to write ‘Botchan’ are as follows.” Didn’t need Sōseki’s grandson to set the record straight as in volume 1, ahem!

The second essay, “How did we come up with ‘The times of Botchan’?,” is pretty self-explanatory. Sekikawa takes a moment to explain the concept of gensaku – “An original story by another author, which may or may not be intended for manga, and which is used by the artist” – but notes how “rare [it is] to find good manga  based on ‘gensaku.'” Sekikawa and Taniguchi are an exception, of course.

Once again, Sekikawa emphasizes the historical importance of the series: “The Meiji Period was a stormy period. In a way, people back then were probably a lot busier than people nowadays. Modern Japanese outlook was formed at the end of the Meiji Period and remains very deeply rooted in our times, in spite of the strong shocks that have been endured.”

So a little enriching history plus good entertainment … perfect for a Saturday afternoon, right?

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2006 (United Kingdom, United States)


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