Socrates in Love
I knew before I bought it that Socrates in Love would make me cry. My husband had one condition for buying it for me: that I was not to read it around him, as seeing me continually weep while reading this novel would break his heart. I ended up reading the book in one three-hour sitting; yes, it's that good.
Affectionally called "Sekachu" (short for Sekai no Chushin de Ai wo Sakebu -- "Crying Out Love in the Center of the World" -- the novel's Japanese title), this classic love story has inspired a manga series (the first volume available now from VIZ Media), a movie, and a TV show. "Sekachu" is the top selling novel in Japan, with over three million readers of this tale of innocent love and heart-shattering loss.
The story is quite simple. Sakutaro Matsumoto is a rather quick-witted, sarcastic and intellectual teenage boy. Aki Hirose is a cute down-to-earth girl. They meet in junior high school as class representatives, where they slowly fall in love and begin to date, seeing their future bright with each other, together. However, sixteen-year-old Aki suddenly gets sick, and she is hospitalized. The doctors tell the young couple that she has aplastic anemia, but Sakutaro soon suspects the truth: leukemia. He watches Aki's struggle with the disease, and her slow decline until her passing, after which Sakutaro has to learn how to keep on living without the love of his life. Running parallel to this timeless story of devotion is that of Sakutaro's grandfather, who has never forgotten his first love, even though he married and had children with another woman, and she with another man. Circumstances drove them apart, yet by combining their ashes, the star-crossed lovers will be finally be reunited after death.
It's a simple story, yet it opens the door to many philosophical questions about life, love, death, and whether there is an afterlife. Aki doesn't believe in an afterlife; she believes that the world has everything that you want or need in it right now, so there's no need for heaven. Since their love is so strongly present in the world, it will remain even after death. Sakutaro is somewhat skeptical of that belief, but as time goes on after Aki's death, he feels her presence in the world so keenly that it must be true. Aki lives on, along with their relationship.
I made it to page twenty-six before the floodgates of my eyes were opened, and they never really dried up until the end of the novel. I would recommend Socrates in Love for high school and older readers, not because of adult language, but because the novel requires the reader to have experienced something of love and loss in order to feel deeply the pain and happiness of Sakutaro and Aki. This book takes on new meaning when you have someone in your life that you love so much.
This isn't VIZ Media's first translated novel; that honor goes to Battle Royal. However, this does mark a growing movement by the company into the novel publishing market, with Fullmetal Alchemist: The Land of Sand and Ghost in the Shell: Innocence After the Long Goodbye also released in October, to be followed by Steamboy and Kamikaze Girls in the winter. As it is, Socrates in Love is a beautiful hardcover book, well-bound and free of printing errors, or at least none that were noticeable to me through the tears. Akemi Wegmüller has done a great job in translating the text; Sakutaro and Aki felt like actual teenagers with distinct personalities and quirks. The only addition that I would have made to this novel would have been including a forward at the beginning of the novel, something to introduce us to the world of Socrates in Love, or conversely, a more lengthy afterword than the one that the author provides us. The emotional trip that the reader takes feels all too brief, but then again, as Sakutaro muses, that's how life is. Time goes by too quickly when you're with someone that you love, and you end up at the place of parting seemingly in no time at all.