I first read Soseki’s Kokoro (translated by Edwin McClellan) in college and was struck by its evocation of loneliness and the graceful weaving of the diary and epistolary forms.
The unnamed narrator, a college student, tells how he becomes acquainted with a wise and sorrowful sensei, or teacher, while on vacation. The narrator yearns to know the source of Sensei’s sorrow but doesn’t find out until much later, while at home. There he receives a book-length letter revealing that the sorrow springs from a great wrong Sensei did years before to a friend in love, a wrong involving Ojosan, Sensei’s wife. Ojosan is paradoxically both the closest person to Sensei and the person to whom he can never reveal the source of his sadness and alienation.
I’ve returned to the book many times since college and am always drawn in by its unadorned, melancholy prose. Here’s a brief excerpt.