"Botchan will appeal to parent, teacher, and schoolchild alike." said Times Literary Supplement about this classic written by Soseki Natsume, one of the most famous Japanese writers of all times. This book is filled with hidden truths and wisdom of life.
"Ever since I was a child, my inherent reclessness has brought me nothing but trouble." As first sentence of the book tells, Botchan is a young boy who constantly gets into a trouble. Being the youngest brother of the family, in wartime Japan, life isn't easy for him. Nobody in his family really cared of him. His father was always very strict on him, and his mother favored his elder brother. His father even said "He'll never amount to anything". The maid of the family, gentle woman Kiyo, was the only person who gave him unconditional love.
Years passed by and soon Botchan went to island of Shikoku, far away from Tokyo, where he was to become school teacher. Botchan is to find many kind of difficulties, while the reckless pranks of his students being least of his concerns. Most of the time he is wondering the meaning of justice and righteous course of action. He is amazed when he finds out the corruption in the school. Without caring of his wealth or of his own status, he refuses becoming part of the corruption. He is offered a bribe, hidden in unexpected raise of his salary, but he refuses to accept it. He would resign, rather than accept it.
I feel the most important message of the book is hidden right there. Botchan is the symbol of pure and little naive thinking, a certain protector of justice and decency. This book seems to be so intelligent that I was really wondering if this is a fiction or not. I heard character of "Botchan" and "Madonna" are actually based on real characters. In fact, Matsuyama Library's homepage displays the models of the characters in Botchan, an actual photograph: Matsuyama Library
This interesting page suggests that model of Botchan was Mr. Mataichi Hironaka who was native of Yamaguchi Prefecture, and graduated from Doshinsha in Tokyo. It is interesting to realize that Mr. Mataichi Hironaka wasn't originally from Tokyo. Why Soseki Natsume made him Tokyoite?
Afterall what makes this book so legendary is the description of Kiyo the only woman character described deeply in the book. The way how she is the symbol of warmth and kindness for Botchan is very touching. She loves Botchan unconditionally, but also offers him her wonderful wisdom. Kiyo is legendary character among Japanese people, most people knows her.
Botchan will certainly bring back some memories of reader's school times, at least it brought mine. It's surprising to notice that recklessness of the young students haven't changed one bit since then. Plus, such behavior of the youth seems universal, unlinked to cultural tendencies or habits.
Sign of a good novel is it's ability to create strong immersion that allows reader to visualize the events. I could really imagine I'm deep down there in Shikoku, far away from Tokyo, surrounded only by strangers who I cannot trust. All I have is my sense of justice..
The Kodansha's English translation is made by Alan Turney. The reissue edition from 1992 has a move vivid cover design than the original paperback.
Books | The Name of the Flower, Twinle Twinkle, Underground, Hardboiled / Hard Luck, Tokyo - a Certain Style, A Japanese Miscellany, Botchan, In the Miso Soup, The Mother of Dreams, Kafka on the Shore, The Wonderful World of Sazae-san, Memoirs of Geisha, Remembering 1945 - Goka O Mita, Wild Sheep Chase, Healing Family, Making Out in Japanese, Yukiguni