Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Botchan by Soseki Natsume

Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s or M4B)
Length: 5 hrs, 7 min
Reader: Availle

The book: According to WikipediaBotchan is one of the most popular novels in Japan. Natsume is the greatest Japanese novelist of the early twentieth century; until a recent anti-counterfeiting redesign, his face appeared on the 1000 yen note. Now that school is back in session, it's the perfect time to read this humorous book about the experiences of a math teacher.

As a name for the main character, "Botchan" can be appropriately translated as "young master" with both the connotation of a privileged background and of a schoolteacher. The narrator moves from a pampered upbringing in Tokyo to teaching at a middle school (what Americans would call a high school) in a provincial town. He gives the other teachers sarcastic nicknames like "Red Shirt" and "Porcupine" and views himself as superior to them. Much of the humor in this novel comes from the conflict between his airs of superiority and the students' attempts to bring him down through their pranks.

As a former teacher at a small college, I was surprised to see the same small-scale squabbles among teachers playing out in a setting halfway around the world and a century in the past.  I suppose departmental politics are the same at every level of education all across the globe. Anyone who's a teacher or is interested in teaching should listen to this classic.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader: Availle has an accent that is hard to place, sometimes sounding like British received pronunciation and sometimes sounding Asian, possibly Japanese. This accent adds spice to the recording, rather than making it difficult to understand. She pronounces the Japanese words with enough confidence that I assume she's correct. For the different characters, she adopts various tones, matching each voice to the character's personality. This is a good amateur recording of this translation.

(Entered in Cym Lowell's Book Review Wednesday. Visit the link for other book reviews)


Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

I always like the way you include not only the story itself, but notes on the narration. A good narrative voice makes a world of difference when it comes to audiobooks. Being fond of Japanese literature here, this is one I will likely download for myself. Thanks for the review!

Listener said...

Great! I had never heard of this one before I read it, but knew of the author. I hope you like this one.