Just started reading Natsume Soseki’s Ten Nights of Dreams. He’s not very popular in the West but the Japanese consider him the Father of Contemporary Japanese literature. He was the second student to graduate with a degree in English from the Tokyo Imperial University. For a while, he felt that English and Japanese literature possessed very similar ideas; but, the more he studied English, the less confident he became in this theory until he dropped it altogether. One can certainly feel the influence of English literature on his work. His style of writing tends to be less cryptic and much more interested in plot or amusing the reader than the confusion created by the forces of the subconscious, intellect, and emotion. Botchan and I am a Cat were very pleasing reads, and the former seems to hold a similar status in Japan as Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird has in the states: everyone’s read it when they were in high school. Like Chaucer, Soseki excels at commenting on the flaws of human nature with humor and without becoming bitter. So, I highly recommend these works to you.
Yet, Ten Nights of Dreams is much more Japanese than the two works that I’ve read. Soseki deftly creates a surreal atmosphere which reminds me more of Jun’ichirou Tanizaki’s short stories. Now, I’m going to give a bunch of “spoilers,” but the genius of the story lies in the atmosphere Soseki creates rather than plot. (The First Night is only about three and a half pages long.) I highly recommend reading it in Japanese rather than English, but the translation by Takumi Kashima and Loretta R. Lorenz seems to be highly rated on Amazon.com.
The dream on the first night deals with the narrator sitting by the bedside of a woman he loves as she is dying. The way Soseki focuses on the woman’s face, describing every detail of it, and things like the narrator seeing his image reflected in the woman’s eyes lends the scene an eldritch feel. (An awesome adjective which combines the ideas of wierd, spooky, and eerie in one. Everyone should know it!) Then, the narrator’s inner anguish is well revealed in the attention he pays her and how he goes back and forth in wondering whether she’s truly going to die. Then, just before she dies, she gives him a strange series of instructions on how to bury her and to wait one hundred years for her to return. I won’t give away how it ends. No author to my knowledge has succeeded so well in portraying a dream-like atmosphere.