by Natsume Soseki, introduction by Pico Iyer, translated from the Japanese by William F. Sibley
A humble clerk and his loving wife scrape out a quiet existence on the margins of Tokyo. Resigned, following years of exile and misfortune, to the bitter consequences of having married without their families’ consent, and unable to have children of their own, Sōsuke and Oyone find the delicate equilibrium of their household upset by a new obligation to meet the educational expenses of Sōsuke’s brash younger brother. While an unlikely new friendship appears to offer a way out of this bind, it also soon threatens to dredge up a past that could once again force them to flee the capital. Desperate and torn, Sōsuke finally resolves to travel to a remote Zen mountain monastery to see if perhaps there, through meditation, he can find a way out of his predicament.
This moving and deceptively simple story, a melancholy tale shot through with glimmers of joy, beauty, and gentle wit, is an understated masterpiece by the first great writer of modern Japan. At the end of his life, Natsume Sōseki declared The Gate, originally published in 1910, to be his favorite among all his novels. This new translation at last captures the original’s oblique grace and also corrects numerous errors and omissions that marred the first English version.
The Gate is the NYRB Classics Book Club selection for December 2012.Natsume Soseki, introduction by Pico Iyer, translated from the Japanese by William F. Sibley
I especially remember the strong sense of identification I felt with The Gate, the story of a young married couple living in far-from-ideal circumstances.
Released in 1910, The Gate is among top Japanese novelist Soseki’s best-known works. A man suddenly abandons his loving wife to enter a life of contemplation in a Zen temple. He goes looking for answers but finds only more questions.
A sensitive, skillfully written novel by the most widely read Japanese author of modern times.
Soseki had a genius for sensitively depicting souls in torment. The novel is about the marriage of Sosuke and Oyone.... The Gate beautifully shows the way their relationship is suffused with both love and remorse, constantly reminding them of their pain while also acting to soothe it.... The Gate concludes with a poignant diminuendo, where Soseki takes leave of his couple with a scene of quiet and bittersweet domesticity. The sign of his greatness is that those last, longing notes sound as clearly now as when they were written.
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
Soseki’s prose is so delicate that each page is like looking at a set of dreamy watercolors.
The Gate is not so much tragic or comic as a graceful balance between the dispiriting and the humorous .... The Gate is surely the kind of writing we need a masterpiece of taste and clarity.
The Gate is almost devoid of dramatic incidents, but halting conversations of a quite ordinary husband and wife have a peculiar poignance because their love is the one abiding element in their lives. The descriptions of Sōsukie's house and its surroundings are as precise as in a Naturalist novel, and the atmosphere of almost featureless days is unfalteringly conveyed, but the novel never becomes boring, no doubt because of the excellence of the writing.