Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Classics Circuit: The Tower of London by Natsume Sosesi

The backstory: I've been having a wonderful year reading more deliberately in terms of reading award-winning literature, but I haven't followed through on my goal of reading the classics. When I heard about the Meiji-era Japanese Classics tour, I decided to sign up. With the choice to pick anything written in Japan between 1868 and 1912, I chose Natsume Soseki's The Tower of London: Tales of Victorian London.

The Tower of London: Tales of Victorian LondonMy thoughts: The edition I read, which was translated by Damien Flanagan opens with a lengthy introduction and biography of Soseki. I found it incredibly helpful, as I knew very little about him in general or where this work fell in his chronology. While I probably would have enjoyed this work without the background knowledge, I wouldn't have understood nearly as much of it without Flanagan's introduction.

Soseki was one of three writers hand-picked by the Japanese government to spend two years in England. Soseki was not excited to go to London, and had to leave his pregnant wife to do so. He was in London from 1900-1902, which was a fascinating time in London's history. The Tower of London offers a fascinating insight into the London and the experience of a Japanese man in a foreign land. Interestingly, he wrote all of these tales after he returned to Japan.

Soseki's writing is very conversational and sometimes seems quite methodical and straight-forward. In that sense, it's a deceptively quick read. Despite the simplicity of his language and structure, I found myself reading quite slowly because he writes for all five senses. I felt like a Japanese man in a foreign land experiencing places for the first time. Perhaps because I have visited several of the places Soseki writes about, his descriptive prose was more evocative for me, but as fascinating as his descriptions are, the experiential part is the most interesting.

The verdict: I thoroughly enjoyed Soseki's vision of Victorian London and his insights into being a foreigner in a strange land.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 195 pages (in this edition, which includes a fantastic introduction)
Publication date: July 31, 2006 (this Damien Flanagan edition)
Source: my local public library

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I read this book as part of the Classics Circuit tour. The next tour is Anthony Trollope, which will run from December 6-December 17. I'll be reading The Warden for that tour. You can sign up for the tour until the evening of Wednesday, November 2.

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  1. Thank you for this review. This is my first time following the reviews on the Classic Circuit and I'm very impressed!

  2. Hi,

    Nice review. When he was in London, he lodged in a house in Clapham (81, the Chase, London SW4) and there is now a Blue Plaque there, commemorating this. I think there is a photo of it somewhere on the Net. By all accounts, he was truly unhappy in England and the people with whom he lodged became concerned about his sanity. Does this come through at all in the book?

  3. I have never heard of this book, so I thank you for throwing s spotlight on it and writing such a thoughtful review. It does sound as though this is a book I might like and think it would be particularly interesting to explore England from this point of view. Thanks for sharing this great review!

  4. I've never heard of this one before but I think it sounds fascinating! Thanks for your review :-)

  5. "he writes for all five senses" This sounds so wonderfully pulled together.

  6. I have "I Am a Cat" by this author, and hope to read it soon. This one sounds good too. Thanks Carrie


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!