Socrates in Love

You can’t be selfish or calculating towards someone who’s dead, or wish them ill.  It seems that’s just the way we’re made.  Look at the feelings you have for Aki.  Sadness, regret, compassion…For you now, these are hard to bear.  But they aren’t bad feelings, not a single one.  Every one of them will nourish you as you grow older.   Socrates in Love, by Kyoichi Katayama, translated by Akemi Wegmuller

Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, girl sickens and dies, boy grieves but goes on.

Simple plot, really.  The complexity in this little gem of a novel is that it “took the Japanese publishing industry by storm, becoming the all-time best selling novel in Japan” in 2001, inspiring a “blockbuster” movie, a TV show, and a popular manga.

Remember the Love Story phenomenon that happened here back in 1970?  That novel by Erich Segal had a very similar plot to Socrates in Love, and was made into a hugely popular tear jerker film starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal, complete with melodramatic title song, and a ubiquitous tag line that appeared on everything from bumper stickers to t-shirts…”Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Socrates in Love appears to have had the same effect on Japanese society, albeit some 35 years later.  In an afterword to this edition, the author Kyoichi Katayama writes that the premise of his novel is based on a philosophical treatise which contends that “love is a form of violence that forces you to think.”  Members of modern Japanese society, Katayama continues, are sated with the achievement of material possessions and the kinds of emotional freedoms unknown in the past.  Yet they seem to lack a sense of “goodness,” the kind of viewpoint that lets you see through the eyes of another and think about the needs of someone else above your own.

My simple plot description of Socrates in Love at the beginning of this post omitted one important aspect.  In the middle of that sequence of events, right after “girl sickens,” it should read “boy forgets about himself and tries to make her happy.”  Sakutaro, our young protagonist, becomes consumed with thoughts of how to help Aki in her struggle with leukemia.  By recognizing his ability to give this kind of selfless love,  he understands the immortal gift Aki has given him, and gives one to her in return.

Perhaps occasionally every society, no matter how technically advanced or materially rich needs to be reminded of the power of love for others.  It seems people hunger to know how important that can be.

~for the Japanese Literature Challenge 4


5 thoughts on “Socrates in Love

  1. How many time do you think should I clap my hands for this? Ten or twenty? Love is a common plot. Everyone loves and knows how to love. It’s this sort of books that make you see how love is not that common nor too easy.

    P.S That was my sister’s account. She forgot to log out. Please delete the other one.

  2. “Perhaps occasionally every society, no matter how technically advanced or materially rich needs to be reminded of the power of love for others. It seems people hunger to know how important that can be.”

    Beautifully said, Becca.

  3. I never would have guessed by the title that this novel was Japanese, or by a Japanese author. I remember how powerful Love Story was to me, and even though it’s now often looked at as being corny, and I completely disagree with ‘love never means having to say you’re sorry’, it remains an important film to me. Therefore, I’m all the more interested in this novel. I am struck by how you said we need to be reminded of the meaning of love. Most certainly, as so many seem to love their gadgets more than people.

  4. Love. It always seems complicated but its actually simple. It’s the relationship that can get difficult. I think it is so easy to lose sight of that. This sounds like a lovely book that undoubtedly gets readers thinking.

  5. I’ve seen the movie adaptation (the Korean version), and really fell in love with that film. Such a brilliant masterpiece.
    Now I really wanted to read the novel but our local bookstores don’t have a copy of this. Argh. Somebody please help. The publisher should send copies of Socrates in Love for everyone, this is a must-read book.

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