Like The Catcher in the Rye or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Botchan, a hilarious tale about a young man’s rebellion against «the system» in a country school, is a classic of its kind. Among Japanese readers both young and old it has enjoyed a timeless popularity, making it, according to Donald Keene, «probably the most widely read novel in modern Japan.»
The setting is Japan’s deep south, where the author himself spent some time teaching English in a boys’ school. Into this conservative world, with its social proprieties and established pecking order, breezes Botchan, down from the big city, with scant respect for either his elders or his noisy young charges; and the result is a chain of collisions large and small.
Much of the story seems to occur in summer, against the drone of cicadas, and in many ways this is a summer book light, funny, never slow-moving. Here, in a lively new translation much better suited to Western tastes than any of its forebears, Botchan’s homespun appeal is all the more apparent, and even those who have never been near the sunlit island on which these calamitous episodes take place should find in it uninterrupted entertainment.
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