Books Catholics Should Read: Sanshiro

August 2, 2011

Not all who wander are lost. –JRR Tolkien

Ours is a society that praises dedicated drive and aimed ambition.  To “succeed,” young people need to know where they want to go, know how to get there, and do whatever it takes to arrive at their desired destination.

Sanshiro rejects that.  Indeed, it is filled with nostalgia for the naive wandering of youth.  Set at the turn of the 20th century, the novel follows the oft-bewildered experiences of Sanshiro, a university student who leaves his remote agricultural hometown to study in the newly industrializing and Westernizing Tokyo.  It’s a coming-of-age novel of “growth without maturity”: Sanshiro reminisces and almost pines for the days when we could gaze up at the clouds and dream, unburdened as yet by the harsh concerns of reality.  It examines Sanshiro with an almost jealous sentimentality as he excitedly and clumsily wanders every path available to him–never committing himself to any one of them.  He is allowed to fall in love with someone he can never have because that is the glory of youth.

by Natsume Soseki

Sanshiro is Natsume Soseki’s cry to the ever-modernizing world.  There’s a certain sentimental beauty in being lost, because by being lost, we are able to stop the world and make sense of it–and in the course of things, we are able to appreciate it.  We should allow ourselves to fall in love with things we can’t have.  We should allow ourselves to wander and wonder.  Because these are the things that give life meaning.  We don’t necessarily need to learn from experience; we should be able to simply experience, and be grateful for it.

Sanshiro is not a call for us all to wander around in our own fantasy worlds forever.  But it is a reminder of the dreams and freedom we lose when we grow up.  Wandering, after all, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re lost.

Content: Episodic adventures loosely connected by Sanshiro’s pursuit of a beautiful woman miles out of his league.
Style: Easy prose loosely divided into short 1.5-3 page episodes. 
The episodes flow smoothly together, though, so you hardly notice they are separate.
Again not necessarily so.  Still, I find that an appreciation for life as it is very Catholic in nature.  And the idea of wandering around till you find the direction towards which God is leading you is indeed very Catholic.

Overall: 3.5/5