Read Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa Jay Rubin Haruki Murakami Yoshihiro Tatsumi Online


This collection features a brilliant new translation of the Japanese master's stories, from the source for the movie Rashōmon to his later, more autobiographical writings.Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) is one of Japan’s foremost stylists - a modernist master whose short stories are marked by highly original imagery, cynicism, beauty and wild humour. ‘Rashōmon’ and ‘In a BThis collection features a brilliant new translation of the Japanese master's stories, from the source for the movie Rashōmon to his later, more autobiographical writings.Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) is one of Japan’s foremost stylists - a modernist master whose short stories are marked by highly original imagery, cynicism, beauty and wild humour. ‘Rashōmon’ and ‘In a Bamboo Grove’ inspired Kurosawa’s magnificent film and depict a past in which morality is turned upside down, while tales such as ‘The Nose’, ‘O-Gin’ and ‘Loyalty’ paint a rich and imaginative picture of a medieval Japan peopled by Shoguns and priests, vagrants and peasants. And in later works such as ‘Death Register’, ‘The Life of a Stupid Man’ and ‘Spinning Gears’, Akutagawa drew from his own life to devastating effect, revealing his intense melancholy and terror of madness in exquisitely moving impressionistic stories.A WORLD IN DECAY- Rashōmon- In a Bamboo Grove- The Nose- Dragon: The Old Potter's Tale- The Spider Thread- Hell ScreenUNDER THE SWORD- Dr. Ogata Ryōsai: Memorandum- O-Gin- LoyaltyMODERN TRAGICOMEDY- The Story of a Head That Fell Off- Green Onions- Horse LegsAKUTAGAWA'S OWN STORY- Daidōji Shinsuke: The Early Years- The Writer's Craft- The Baby's Sickness- Death Register- The Life of a Stupid Man- Spinning Gears...

Title : Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories
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ISBN : 9780143039846
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 268 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories Reviews

  • Nandakishore Varma
    2019-06-20 01:38

    For a person drunk on the film society culture prevalent in Kerala during the Seventies and Eighties, "Rashomon" is a magic word.Akira Kurasowa’s film enjoys cult status among movie buffs. It is rivetting in its presentation of “truth” in many layers, presented as a conversation among three people: a woodcutter, a priest and a commoner who take shelter under the ramshackle Rashomon city gates to escape a downpour. The story is the death (murder?) of a man, the rape (?) of a woman and the capture of a bandit responsible (?) for both: as the story unfolds, the differences in the widely varying testimonies of the people involved force us to have a rethink on what “truth” means.I had heard about this movie a lot before actually seeing it; and it lived up to its hype and more when I finally got around to seeing it. But this review is not about the movie. It is about the magical short story which was its inspiration – and other stories like it, penned by one of the great figures of Japanese literatures, the turn-of-the-century novelist Ryunosuke Akutagawa.When I first saw the movie, I was so taken up by the sheer visual beauty of Kurasowa’s storytelling that I did not ruminate much on what this movie was based on, even though I saw the “based on…” title in the beginning. It was only after joining Goodreads that I came to know about this book, and was immediately hungry for it. Having read it, it has left me hungry for more by the same author, and Japanese literature in general. It is so shattering in its impact on the intellect, even in translation; I cannot imagine how powerful it must be in the original Japanaese – for, as Haruki Murakami says in the introduction, the translation can never capture the power of the original.Akutagawa is a tragic figure. His mother went mad shortly after his birth, and he was raised by his childless maternal uncle and aunt. Even though they were a highly cultured family and young Ryunosuke was lucky to have a childhood exposed to a lot of intellectual pleasures, he was constantly plagued by ill-health and bullying in school. His ill-health continued into youth: he suffered from chronic insomnia and fears of madness. The misfortunes of family and country also distressed his oversensitive soul to an inordinate extent. Until finally, on 24 July 1927, Ryunosuke Akutagawa committed suicide by an overdose of Veronal.The author’s gifted and tortured soul is visible throughout this amazing collection of stories. It is divided into four sections: (1) A World in Decay, (2) Under the Sword, (3) Modern Tragicomedy and (4) Akutagawa’s Own Story. These sections correspond to four periods of Japanese history as well as four creative styles which took birth from Akutagawa’s fertile imagination.In the first section, stories (most of them retelling of old legends) set in the Heian Period (A.C.E. 794 – 1185) are included. This was Japan’s classical era; a time of peace, prosperity and opulence when art and culture flourished. But as is common with most ancient kingdoms, it declined and power slipped from the hands of the aristocrats into the hands of the warlords. It is this twilight period that Akutagawa uses as a backdrop for his stories of degeneration and decay. The title story of the collection, Rashomon, encapsulates the entire misery of the country in the symbol of the gate of the capital city of Kyoto. The city having been struck by one calamity after another, the author says:With the whole city in such turmoil, no one bothered to maintain the Rashomon. Foxes and badgers came to live in the dilapidated structure, and they were soon joined by thieves. Finally, it became the custom to abandon unclaimed corpses in the upper storey of the gate, which made the neighbourhood an eerie place that everyone avoided after the sun went down.The stage is thus perfectly set for a set of disturbing stories. Rashomon narrates the story of a jobless servant who is sheltering from the rain inside the gate and an old woman, who steals hair from the corpses lying there to sell to wig-makers, justifying it by pointing out that the dead people were also thieves and cheaters. Ultimately, she inspires the servant to become a thief himself who starts off on his new career by stealing her clothes!In a Bamboo Grove, one of the most extraordinary stories ever written (this was the inspiration for Kurasowa’s film, even though he used the Rashomon gate as a symbol of the decay he was portraying) narrates story of a dead warrior, a thief and a raped woman from the viewpoint of each of the protagonists. Each of the stories is different and equally believable from the evidence available at the scene of the crime and the statements of the witnesses. Who we believe will depend a lot on who we are.But the story which impressed me most in the whole volume is Hell Screen. This gem of a novelette gives us a taste of horror, Japanese style – I could understand how movies like Dark Water, The Ring and The Grudge came into being. The tale of the deformed artist Yoshihide (nicknamed “Monkeyhide” because of his deformity), the tapestry of hell he paints for the Lord Horikawa, the artist’s daughter who is a serving girl at the Lord’s mansion and the pet monkey has all the elements of a medieval ghost story and a gothic romance. However, it is Akutagawa’s narrative style (whereby he leaves a lot unsaid) and his choice of the narrative voice (that of an unnamed member of the Lord’s retinue) that are masterful. The story is a one way ride into darkness.In the second section, we move forward to the Tokugawa Shogunate (A.C.E. 1600 – 1868). This was the last feudal military government of Japan. During this period, the shogun elders of the Tokugawa clan ruled from Edo Castle. As Jay Rubin, the translator, says, the Tokugawa centralised feudalism “imposed the principle of joint responsibility on all parts of society, punishing whole families, entire villages, or professional guilds for the infractions of individual members. This fostered a culture based on mutual spying, which promoted a mentality of constant vigilance and self-censorship.”In the story Loyalty, the disastrous effects of the madness of a samurai on an entire dynasty is described: in this merciless world, it does not mean just the destruction of a person, but of a whole bloodline. The other two stories included describe the clash between Christianity and Japan’s traditional religions. These distressing tales are rendered with much empathy and wit.In the third section we find a sarcastic Akutagawa, full of black humour. The Story of the Head that Fell Off and Horse Legs use the trappings of fantasy to create a sort of darkly comic tale. In Green Onions, we can see an author smiling at himself and his fellow-scribes, in a pastiche of a romantic tale.There is a whole tradition of autobiographical writing in Japan, called “I-Novels”, where the author’s life itself is fictionalised. Even though Akutagawa initially stayed away from this genre, he finally succumbed to peer and critic pressure and started writing such stories. It is here that one can see a fine mind finally unravelling. There are hints of this in the first three stories, especially in The Writer’s Craft where an author is forced write an elegy for somebody whom he barely knows; just on the strength of his writing talent. This sense of unease is increased in Death Register where he tabulates the demise of friends and relatives: and in The Diary of a Stupid Man and Spinning Gears (where Akutagawa keeps on hallucinating spinning gears on one side of his vision), we sense that we are standing on the edge of a minefield. (Spinning Gears was published posthumously.)This is a well-chosen set of stories, with a fantastic introduction by Haruki Murakami. There are explanations about the historical periods, and background information on each story. The timeline of Akutagawa’s life is also provided. The book satisfies one, not only literally, but also as a window to Japanese literature.Highly recommended.Review also posted on my BLOG.

  • Edward
    2019-06-04 00:37

    Note on Japanese Name Order and PronunciationAcknowledgmentsChronology & NotesIntroduction: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke: Downfall of the Chosen, by Murakami HarukiFurther ReadingTranslator's NoteA World in Decay--Rashōmon--In a Bamboo Grove--The Nose--Dragon: The Old Potter's Tale--The Spider Thread--Hell ScreenUnder the Sword--Dr. Ogata Ryōsai: Memorandum--O-Gin--LoyaltyModern Tragicomedy--The Story of a Head That Fell Off--Green Onions--Horse LegsAkutagawa's Own Story--Daidōji Shinsuke: The Early Years--The Writer's Craft--The Baby's Sickness--Death Register--The Life of a Stupid Man--Spinning GearsNotes

  • Taka
    2019-06-26 23:51

    Good, but... Yes. I did it. I've committed one of the ultimate literary sacrileges of all time. I read Akutagawa Ryunosuke in translation when I could have read it in original Japanese. I am guilty as charged. I just couldn't resist a book with such a cool cover and Murakami's introduction plus his trusted Jay Rubin doing the translation. Having said that, I did read it along with the actual Japanese text in front of me to see how well Jay Rubin has grappled with difficult early 19th-century Japanese and rendered it into English. And the result was somewhat disappointing. I think he does a good job translating Murakami's works, but here with Akutagawa, he pretty much butchers most of his early stories that take place in medieval Japan (which stories, by the way, are usually extolled as his masterpieces). The original Japanese is, of course, in medieval Japanese, and it is quite different from modern Japanese (but not as different as modern English to Chaucer's middle English). But Mr. Rubin sometimes translates conversations into highly colloquial English, and that just doesn't work with Akutagawa's early stories.The Japanese language - still today and even more so back in the day - is a very polite language, which logically makes it a very vague language as well, where curse words don't really exist and you say things in a very roundabout way. And to render this into modern colloquial English is like equivalent to rendering Shakespeare into today's slang with an abundance of "F" and "N" and other such words. Now from a reader's point of view, Mr. Rubin's translation is very readable. Very. It could have, however, been a lot more conservative on the use of colloquialism and slang without compromising its readability. For example, in one of the scenes, a lord tells his trusted servant to kill someone, and the original reads more or less, "Kill that man, that Rin'emon," which Mr. Rubin translates as "Kill that bastard!" Alright. This does show the degree to which this guy is mad (in fact crazy), but I'm sorry, that just doesn't work. The word "bastard" is just way too much of a bad word for someone like a lord himself could utter (and I don't think there was an equivalent in medieval Japanese). I do recognize the difficulty since the Japanese here is very very subtle. The meaning is close to "bastard," but a LOT less blatant than what the English word conveys. In many many instances Mr. Rubin resorts to colloquial English that sounds too jarring to a Japanese ear when compared to the subtle nuances and beauty of the original Japanese. But that's just me, who is fortunate enough to be able to read both Japanese and English with more or less equal fluency. So as far as the translation is concerned, hats off to Mr. Rubin for making Akutagawa's stories easily available for the English-speaking public, but as an artistic work, it could have done much better by avoiding too much colloquialism and using more formal (and even a bit archaic) English to better convey the original voice of the text.W/r/t the stories, they are really good. I'd even say he's Japan's Chekhov. In fact, you could see an exotic blend of Kafka, Gogol, Chekhov, and even Dostoevsky at work behind these stories. My personal favorites are his famous "Hell Screen" (intense and just awesome), "In the Bamboo Grove" (Kurosawa's Rashomon is based on this), and "Horse legs" (which is very Kafkaesque and just funny). "Loyalty" is also excellent in terms of it psychological insights. Though I wasn't a big fan of his later, autobiographical stories, they were strangely engaging. It's just too bad that one of his most famous stories, "Kappa," is not included in this collection. Overall, it's a good short anthology of Akutagawa's stories.

  • Kimley
    2019-06-01 06:46

    Obviously the difficulty of rating collections of stories is the fact that they don't necessarily all rate equally. About a third of these stories are easily knock-out 5-star fantastic. The other two-thirds I'd rate mostly 4 stars with a few 3 stars. All worth reading and in general I think this is probably a good intro to Akutagawa's work in that it contains a nice cross-section of his work from the earliest historical stories to his later primarily autobiographical stories.I personally preferred the earlier stories which ranged from tales of Samurai warriors and Shoguns and stories of religious persecution when Christianity was making inroads in Japan to satyrical stories about unfortunates with big noses.* While the settings are completely foreign to me, the characters are people I know all too well. My favorite story being "Hell Screen" in which an egotistical painter is commissioned to paint a screen depicting the horrors of hell. In order to sketch the scenes, he puts his assistants through a myriad of tortures and all I'll add in an effort to not give too much away is that karma is a bitch! These early stories have an almost Victorian gothic creepiness to them but it's a bit more subtle and far more insidious in that it seems infinitely more real. And Akutagawa has a nice dollop of humor running throughout these early stories as well.The later autobiographical stories in which he writes of his mother who went mad, of his infidelities and his fear of going mad himself and his increasing depression that led to his eventual suicide are painful to read in how human and easy to relate to they are. But having read Dazai's similarly themed autobiographical stories not too long ago, Akutagawa didn't have quite the gut punch that Dazai had for me. Akutagawa's story "The Spinning Gears" was the best of the autobiographical bunch for me. Throughout, he continues to have visions of gears that nearly block out his vision. Those of us who have the luxury to think about life beyond just worrying about food and shelter can probably all relate to this nightmare of the cogs of life just taking over. The horror element of his earlier stories definitely comes into play here.There's a slightly strange intro to this collection by Haruki Murakami which is far more critical of Akutagawa's work than I might have expected though it did seem like a relatively fair critique. I'm glad I read it after reading the stories though.-----------------------*When I studied Chinese, my teachers were all native Chinese, mostly on exchange and when we learned the word for "nose" we also learned that Americans are frequently called "big nose" so I had a good chuckle seeing that the Japanese are equally amused by big noses.

  • BrokenTune
    2019-05-31 07:03

    DNF @ 39%These stories are not bad but I just can't muster any real enthusiasm for them.It is not helped by the stories being unconneced and by themselves not being great examples of the short story format.Of course, they were not written as short stories in the Western literary sense. It's just that the way they are written is boring me stiff.Maybe I'll pick this up again at a later date, but right now, this is not working for me.

  • Praj
    2019-06-22 01:03

    Akutagawa known as the “Father of Japanese short stories” stays true to his designation with this collection of metaphysically refined stories. The rendered stories: - The Grove, Yam Gruel, Rashomon, Martyr to name a few; highlights Akutagawa’s preference for macabre themes of immortality, depression, virtue, chaos and death. These stories encompass a constant battle of skepticism prevailing over virtue of morality v/s existence of evil. In Rashomon, the act of the ghoulish old woman picking out long hairs from the skulls of the corpses to make wigs and sell them to buy scraps of food delineate a desperate act to fulfill the demonic perils of life. Similarly, 'Martyr' highlights the thriving soul of hypocrisy in religion and the susceptibility to strong gossip. Akutagawa’s affinity for such themes brings out his real tumultuous relation with mental anxiety and clinical neurotic dwelling of his personal life. (He committed suicide at the age of 35 due to an overdose of Vernol). Furthermore, his description of kimonos/garbs adorning his protagonists illustrates a high usage of the color blue which in Japanese culture is the color of naivety,immaturity and youth.

  • Zanna
    2019-06-16 02:36

    First read in 2007In his characteristically measured, conversational introduction to this book, Murakami Haruki tells us that Akutagawa is his third favourite author in the modern (post 1868) Japanese canon (after Soseki and Tanizaki). Rather than giddily enthusing about the author, Murakami carefully contextualises him in Japanese literature and culture. Akutagawa lived during a brief period of prosperity and political liberalism between WWI and the Depression in 1929, and combined appreciative immersion in Japanese cultural life with passion for Western literature. He called Soseki 'The Master', and worked as an editor as well as writing; the autobiographical stories in this collection demonstrate the literariness of his short life.As well as drawing on his own daily experience and mental anguish for source material (a form related to the 'I-novel' style of some of his contemporaries in Japanese literature), Akutagawa wrote stories set in the Edo period when Japan was governed by military overlords. Many of these have interesting historical content. He also wrote stories of his own time, with an amusing self-awareness. The writer is always a presence, even if only in the pleasurable excess of musical names.His style is clear, lyrical and pierced here and there by vivid images, like the purple sparks made by the tram on the overhead wires that the narrator wants to hold in his hands. Murakami says 'the flow of his language... moves along like a living thing', and this translation by Jay Rubin certainly preserves this natural, dynamic, unforced quality. One technique that I particularly liked and that is original or at least unusual is the one he employs in 'Hell Screen' as well as other pieces, that of using a disapproving narrator to tell the hero's story. This device not only actively engages the reader's sympathy with the protagonists, but also creates a deep and nuanced impression of social exclusion and isolation.

  • Martina
    2019-05-28 04:39

    Throughout my life I've been experiencing the strangest tendency when reading a really great literary work: after finishing a particularly brilliant passage/story/poem, I just have to put the book down for while, to stop reading it altogether as if I was afraid that this was the peak and nothing better will follow. Sometimes this takes days of sweet pondering upon the writer's craft. I like savouring these moments, they occur rarely, bringing me much pleasure and gently nudging me into thinking about beauty. Many Akutagawa's short stories gave me this feeling, especially those that were about medieval Japan and the samurai (especially In a Bamboo Grove, Hell Screen or Loyalty). I find it extremely hard to comment on such brilliantly crafted small literary worlds. It's always difficult to describe perfection, you just have to experience it and then you know: this is it. I feel the compliments are also in order for Jay Rubin, the translator, who rendered these stories so beautifully into English.On the other hand, this book seemed utterly depressing to me. Akutagawa is preoccupied with death and suicide in quite an unhealthy manner, which is surely due to his mental illness. Naturally, this issue is a fact of life, not a bad thing in itself, but the way this volume is compiled and filled with incredibly elaborate commentary on the autobiographical element of his writing, one sort of feels like sinking into that utter darkness with the author (the most dismal posthumously published stories are ordered in the end of this compilation). Thus, Akutagawa would be one of those artists that I put into a special category of mine - the writers that I consider truly gifted (if not even genius), but for various reasons I can't relate to them personally. His own works were unlikely to appeal to people who were not like him and had not lived a life like this Akutagawa wrote himself. He tells us later that he is the one that believes in the existence of darkness only, not in the light. It leaves me just wondering how much of this is the result his depression or unhappy personal circumstances and how much the influence of fin-de-siècle literature he was devouring, an influence on his life that is duly acknowledged. So, there he is - a master of words, a strange man... I guess this is the black and the white of this reading experience. A damn intense reading experience.

  • Morgan
    2019-05-31 00:56

    "It's unfortunate for the gods that, unlike us, they cannot commit suicide.""I don't have the strength to keep writing this. To go on living with this feeling is painful beyond description. Isn't there someone kind enough to strangle me in my sleep?"Two quote that stood out to me and I only can understand them after looking up about this writer. He seemed to have a lot going on in his mind unfortunately, but he seemed to write a lot short stories before he killed himself. I guess when reading these stories, keep in mind the author's fate.For me, these were oddly written. The style wasn't really what I was use too. I think the three stories that stood out to me were "The Nose," "Hell Screen," and "The Life of a Stupid Man." Usually I like the title story, but not really this time around.However, I'm not really sure I fully liked Ryūnosuke Akutagawa work. He does remind me if Kafka and H.C. Anderson wrote a book together. "Hell Screen" was like Kafka and "The Nose" was like Anderson. He stories had this dream-like and fairy-tale-like feel to them at times.Some of these stories are worth reading, but I have a feeling most people I know won't really care for these. Not sure who'd I recommend these too unless you are interested in Japanese short story fiction.

  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
    2019-06-08 03:03

    When I read my first Murakami, a compilation of short stories called "After the Quake," I was amazed by his refreshing originality. Some of his stories, indeed, had the effect of an earthquake to me. There were jolting, sudden and unexpected turns. In one, a man and a woman, after a brief introduction, make love. Then, out of nowhere, the man felt a sudden impulse to kill her. In another story, the characters were on a beach. Tears suddenly flow down from the eyes of one character, then they talk of killing themselves. Developments like these come without warning as they were not even hinted in the previous narration.Now, it can be told. This style of storytelling is not at all original. Murakami, I think, copied it from this great Japanese writer who killed himself in 1927 at the age of 35--Ryunosuke Akutagawa (in the list of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die he's under letter "R"--a mistake, because his surname is Akutagawa, not Ryunosuke). By his own confession, Murakami has been reading Akutagawa since he was a teenager.I bet that if one includes Rashomon in that compilation "After the Quake" an uninitiated reader will not find any difference between it and the rest of the stories there except that the latter have modern settings while "Rashomon" is set in 12th century Japan."Rashomon" ("Mon" being the Japanese for gate) was an outer castle gate, specifically the great southern main entrance to Kyoto during the Heian Period. It had massive pillars, towering archways and several chambers. The whole city of Kyoto, at the time of the story, was under civil unrest. People were hungry, even the Rashomon itself had become dilapidated for lack of proper maintenance. In the upper chamber thereof was dumped the city's dead, the victims of the prevailing hunger and violence.In the lower chamber sits a servant who had just lost his job. He is said to be waiting for the rain to stop but he knows that even if the rain stops he really has nowhere to go and nothing to do. He had come to the dreadful conclusion that he would either die of starvation or survive by being a thief.The mood is somber, the descriptive prose is elegant, fluid and spontaneous. Just like Murakami (in his short stories). Then the servant sees something...Thereafter comes one event after another which felt like Murakami's earthquakes, with a similar ending that leaves unanswered questions.In the Introduction to the life and works of Akutagawa a Japanese literary critic, in 1917, described him (Akutagawa) as "a writer who can't write without props." I was amused by this because elsewhere in goodreads before, discussing Kafka on the Shore with a Murakami fanatic K.D., I wrote that Murakami had used a lot of juvenile, ineffective props here (like talking cats, mother and son fucking, eels falling down from the sky, etc.) which were not even original as you can see parallels from Greek mythology and even in works of Lewis Carroll. The Introduction also declared:"Sheer technique...though skillfully applied, does not necessarily translate into original literature. A fictional world that was not truly (the author's) own and that used borrowed containers would eventually reach and impasse and come to stand in his way like a high wall. Further pursuit of fictional method could only yield technical polish. And not surprisingly, the novelty would wear thin and readers would tire of seeing the same devices."Wow, I myself could have said this after reading Kafka on the Shore! Now, guess who wrote this introduction? Close your eyes and bang your head on the wall--Haruki Murakami himself.LOL!

  • Madhulika Liddle
    2019-06-17 22:53

    It’s hard to review something like Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’sRashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories: it’s too complex, too often inducing a “What was that I read?”, too deep, and yet approachable, very readable. I found this book by chance while surfing Goodreads, and was immediately attracted byRashōmon, since I am a fan of Kurosawa’s, and am all admiration for that particular film (the plot of which, ironically, draws more from Akutagawa’s In the Bamboo Grove than it does fromRashōmon itself). I bought the book and told myself that I’d read it slowly, one short story at a time—and found myself caught like a fly in a spider’s web. I ended up reading most of this book in long stretches, until my eyes hurt. The eighteen stories are very diverse in nature: there are ghosts here, and dragons. There is hell, both somewhat distant, seen through the benevolent eyes of the Sakyamuni in The Spider Thread, and close, horrifying, macabre—as in Hell Screen. There are tales of a Japan torn between tradition and modernity, of battles between Christianity and older, local beliefs. There are battles, too, between man and man, and—most forcibly, most searingly, the stories of man’s battles with himself. The latter are brought most vividly (and disturbingly) to life in the last section of the book, which brings together six autobiographical stories by Akutagawa. As I progressed through this book, I went through a range of emotions. I laughed at the quirky humour in The Nose, Dragon: The Old Potter’s Tale and Green Onions. I shivered at the cruelty of Hell Screen. And I couldn’t help but wonder how much of Spinning Gears (which was published posthumously, after Akutagawa killed himself in 1927) was real, and how much was not. This is a brilliant book. It’s rich, textured, detailed. The imagery is often breathtaking (“She had a radiant face, like the morning sun on a thin sheet of ice”), and the layers are fascinating, peeling away from the mundane, even comical, to the wryly profound. As an example: ”He put a cigarette in his mouth and was striking a match when he collapsed face-down on his desk and died. It was a truly disappointing way to die. Fortunately, however, society rarely offers critical comment regarding the way a person dies. The way a person lives is what evokes criticism.”The translator, Jay Rubin, also provides useful notes on stories and their elements, which help in a better understanding of the story (especially for someone not familiar with Japan and its culture). In addition, there’s a brief but good biography of Akutagawa, and a superb introduction by Haruki Murakami. I would advise reading all of these, besides the stories that comprise the book: they help get a better insight into the author, and so add to the experience. I ended this book feeling both oddly deflated and inspired. As a writer, I can’t help but be inspired by writing of such stature. As a writer, too, I can’t help but feel that I cannot possibly ever write as brilliantly as this. Not a book I am going to forget in a hurry, if ever.

  • David
    2019-06-06 01:58

    In his (undated ... perhaps 2006?) introduction, Haruki Murakami gives us what he thinks would be Japan's 10 most important "writers of national stature". They are writers that "left us works of the first rank that vividly reflect the mentality of the Japanese people ... [the works] must have the power to survive at least a quarter century after the writer's death. ... The important thing is whether each of them as an individual human being embraced an awareness of the great questions of the age, accepted his or her social responsibility as an artist on the front line, and made an honest effort to shape his or her life accordingly."Haruki believes the top 10 to be:#1. Sōseki Natsume. Equal #2 are: 2.Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, 2.Ōgai Mori, 4.Shimazaki To son, 5.Shiga Naoya, 6.Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, 7.Yasunari Kawabata. Equal #8 are: 8.Osamu Dazai, 8.Yukio Mishima.He can't think of a tenth name for the list(!). Which is cute if you are a fan of Kenzaburō Ōe. Haruki is such a bitch. He goes on to say that "Kawabata's works, to be honest, have always been a problem for me. ... I have never been able to identify very closely with his fictional world." And "With reagrd to Shimazaki and Shiga, I can only say that I have no particular interest in them ... what I have read has left little trace in my memory."So old Kenzaburo has been excluded from Haruki's list of 10 ... which only includes 9 ... and of which, 3 he really doesn't have time for? Ouch.But Haruki's obviously mad. He seems to say that Botchan can be "memorized whole by most school children". What?On to Akutagawa ... I liked the "I" stuff the best.

  • Erin the Avid Reader ⚜BFF's with the Cheshire Cat⚜
    2019-05-29 01:46 never though I could find myself this immersed in a book before and finish it this quickly. The last time I finished a long book this quickly was 4-5 years ago when I read Jonathan Stroud's "The Amulet of Samarkand" in one night. This was a good book to start reading the night of my birthday. What a real treat indeed!I was expecting to finish this AFTER "A Man of All Seasons", which I was already over halfway done with and I got there from only two days worth of reading...but nope. This beat it to the finish line. It was that addicting...almost as addicting as sugar it was!My mom picked up this book from Powell's after seeing the movie. Not hearing of this author before, I picked it up because of its errors cover and was hooked! I finished the 236 (268 if you count the afterwards and the notes) page behemoth of short stories and a short novella.There is something really creepy and superb in the way Ryonosuke Akutagawa writes his stories. He is really good at describing what he's trying to convey. However, the final three stories (which were both autobiographical and semi-autobiographical) of this collection were a bit tricky for me to read sue to the suicidal undertones of each and every one of them (Ryonosuke commit suicide when he was 35, and at the end of his last two stories he left notes stating that there was no point in him living anymore. Creepy and lachrymose all in one package)! The autobiographical ones are mostly about him just observing why he's on Earth and wonders what his purpose is. I have never ever read an author who put suicide notes in their stories but there's gotta be a first time (it's sad as hell so be warned).Ryonosuke did stories that included horror, cynicism, comedy, drama, realism, and of course, beauty. Every single one of his stories is beautifully written and you can tell that he was passionate about what he was doing (excluding the later ones). He was definitely a genius and of course deserves having a Japanese literary award named in his honor. This man really deserves it.The best story in here was probably "The Bamboo Grove", which tells the story of a murder from the perspective of many people...including the spirit of the murdered! A very, very compelling and short story indeed.If he had not killed himself, I wonder what other work he would have produced. For such a short writing career, he was indeed a prolific writer.In his memory, please pick up this book and at least give it a try. This man is a genius and needs more love for what he created.

  • umberto
    2019-06-05 06:02

    Reading Ryunosuke Akutakawa's "Hell Screen" is like reading Edgar Allan Poe. However, "Rashomon" here was merely the inception of the 1950 film directed by Akira Kurosawa since, according to the Translator's Note, the director used only the first two short stories (Rashomon & In a Bamboo Grove) and Shinobu Hashimoto helped him rewrite the whole screenplay.I'm sorry I've never seen the film before, however, some 40 years ago I read its screenplay in Thai. Therefore, it's interesting to find its complete screenplay to read and compare how the screenplay writers created further plots/stories from the two short stories. For more details, please visit this website:

  • Inderjit Sanghera
    2019-05-27 23:51

    Verdant vignettes vibrate across the reader’s eyes, as the are drawn into the splendiferous similes which dance across the page, shimmering like the pale reflection of sun-light on pebbles in a Japanese garden. Akutagawa fused he aesthetics of haiku with the psychology of Dostoevsky and other Western writers; style and form are as central to his stories as structure, psychology and characters, yet few short story writers are able to match the sheer diversity of Akutagawa’s ouvre; whether it be Gogolian fantasy in ‘The Nose’, discourses on the power of art in ‘Hell Screen’ or proto magical realism in ‘Horse Legs’, the breadth of Akutagawa’s stories in immense.The highlight of these stories is undoubtedly ‘Hell Screen’, a macabre exploration of the darker elements of artistic inspiration, as the titular character, the morose and morbid painter Yoshide, tortures others to gain inspiration for his depiction of hell. Other highlights include, ‘In a Budding Grove’ which explores the nature of narrative perspective and was the inspiration for Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’ and ‘Spinning Gears’ a playful and poetic l pieces which reminders the reader of the jejunish experimental fiction of Oulipo. Interspersed within the short stories are some strikingly pretty images, such as;“Pine boughs stretched across the empty sky, and in them hung a copper-coloured moon devoid or radiance.”“A butterfly fluttered it’s wings in a wind thick with the smell of seaweed. His dry lips felt the touch of the butterfly for the briefest instant, yet the wisp of a wing dust still shone on his lips years later.”“I left the hotel and hurried towards my sister’s house along streets reflecting blue skys in pools of snow-melt”Loneliness and alienation are the central themes which run through these stories, as the characters struggle to articulate their euphoria-whether it be religious in the exploration of incipient Christianity in ‘O-Gin’ (“O-Gin’s heart was not, like her parents, a desert swept by searing winds. It was an abundant field of ripened wheat sprinkled with wild roses”) or of the aspiring artist, Yasukichi, whose cloyingly clichéd funeral orations are held in higher regards than his art. More than this, his stories are about love and disillusions and jjoys there is something quintessentially modern the urban romance in ‘Green Onions’. Akutagawa is, along with Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield, one of the greatest short story writers.

  • aPriL does feral sometimes
    2019-06-25 01:50

    The interpreted stories included in this collection reflect an intelligence that is well-read, perceptive and deeply aware of human foibles. Through the language of ancient Eastern folk tales, half of the short stories are entertaining and revealing. The author writes in the years of 1915 to 1925, in Japan, using Chinese and Japanese literary and cultural themes that not only educate the reader in Eastern literature, but also demonstrate that humanity is the same whether living in the East or West, no matter which century the author writes about and lived. The way people feel about the mysteries of their lives is the same whatever the setting. At the same time, the different, distinctly Eastern cultural prism through which our commonalities present themselves reflect a Japanese view that is a bit mystifying, and very interesting. Fortunately, this collection includes two very famous stories, Rashomon and In a Bamboo Grove which were combined into a famous Japanese movie, from which Hollywood has wisely and not so aptly attempted to imitate in several variations.(view spoiler)[For the record, in the story Rashomon, I believe the dead man, Tekehiro, is the most truthful in the short story. I believe he incorrectly read his wife's actions and motivations, but he spoke the truth as he understood it. His wife, Masago, saw contempt in his eyes -I believe she misread her husband's emotion and saw what she feared most from him. She continuously lost consciousness and was extremely stressed. She had been raped, after all. Tajomaru was a braggart and a criminal, and probably did not feel he would be let off or considered innocent after his capture. He would be most interested in inflating his actions, so I don't believe there was a fight. After raping her, Tajomaru, I think, added insult to injury and tormented Masago, only increasing her distress and her certainty that her husband would despise her. In reality (?!?), the thief only wanted to rape, torment and rob. She would have been wild with shame and fear of rejection by her husband, as well as having been degraded. Tekehiro would have been dishonored and shamed by his impotence, greed, dupability and perhaps by suspecting his wife's loss of respect for him, which would lead him to believe she could easily want him dead for that, and thus be blind to how she might have been hiding her own shameful acts of wanting to save her life and the dishonor by going with the thief, who she believed wanted to take her with him (I think that's what he whispered to her in the short story). The thief forced her to choose living over loyalty, so by his trick, she shamed herself by her choice of desertion. When the thief revealed his treachery, she was doubly humiliated - first the rape, and then her choice of deserting her husband. After the thief left (why would he untie the husband, realistically?) I think, unable to face her wretched self-betrayal and afraid of her husband's supposed need for revenge and rage, she did try to stab him, but perhaps incompetently. She was 19, a young girl. After she ran away, her husband killed himself in self-loathing. The girl's mom said he was kind at heart, and he was a man of honor. At least that's how it makes sense to me, given what I know of human nature.Of course, uncertain narrators abound, so what all of us judges can go by is what we know of human nature along with the testimony. Akutagawa has made the reader one of the characters in the story, has he not? As judges, truth must be assigned as a probability instead of a certainty. Although I believe in my synopsis as the closest truth, Tajomaru confessed. I believe he raped and robbed and played a horrible spiteful trick in the couple which doomed the marriage, but as a judge, I don't believe he dueled or killed the husband physically, although he committed soul murders of two, perhaps. But he has confessed out of misplaced pride and braggedo, and I'm happy to condemn him for the murder, given no other physical evidence.The author is so clever. Now WE know the uncertainty of determining truth of phenomena which is dependent on human interpretations of reality. I have become an unreliable narrator.I completely disbelieve the Woodcutter. Despite appearances of being disinterested, his story does not make any sense unless you accept the complete dissonance of a young wife being more like a hardened psychopathic prostitute moments after being abducted, imprisoned, and raped, by an armed man threatening death and humiliation.(hide spoiler)]Later stories included in the book, from 1925 to 1927 are more autobiographical or personal, and while revealing how similar that people feel about fear, stress, anxiety, and how we live within communal society, sadly, these stories show how the author is losing his equilibrium and peace of mind. It is difficult to parse out if it is the fear of going insane or if it is actual instability precipitating his emotional frailty.

  • ♥ Ibrahim ♥
    2019-06-27 22:45

    I like how the stories are being told, told by a master storyteller. However, to talk about thieves, corpses, and more corpses and such morbid things doesn't appeal to me. At least, I gave it a try and came out of my literary shell :)

  • Kain
    2019-06-04 05:02

    من التهاون أن يتم استحضار أسماء رواد القصة القصيرة في الأدب العالمي، من غير أن يُذكر اسم ريونوسوكي أكوتاجاوا كرائد في هذا الجنس الأدبي. فإن كان لروسيا أن تحتفي بتشيخوف، ولإنجلترا بإدغار، ولفرنسا بموباسان، فلليابان أن تفخر كل الفخر بريونوسوكي أكوتاجاوا، كواحد من عباقرة هذا المجال. أسلوب ريونوسوكي يتّسم بالهدوء. صوته الروائي يشبه طنين الصمت. فعندما يصف الجحيم البوذي، يفعلها وكأنه يصف حديقة منزله. ويصوّر سقوط الرأس المقطوع عن الجسد، كأنه يصوّر سقوط الملعقة من على الطاولة. يتحدّث ببساطة عن كل ما قد يقف الكاتب العادي أمامه حائرًا في الوصف، فيلجأ للإستعارات والكنايات. ولكن ريونوسكي، المتسامح مع القلم، لا يفعلها كذلك. لا يحتاج لوسائط وتشبيهات ليسلّم لك الشعور القابع في قلبه. بل يفعلها بطريقة بسيطة للغاية، هكذا، كساحر.

  • Dylan Grant
    2019-06-09 06:44

    Akutagawa was a tortured soul, and his writing is at its best when he stares the darkness of human life in the face. In his own life he was unable to find any kind of resolution to the darkness except for perhaps using it as a fuel for art, and his stories illustrate this, especially "Hell Screen" which is the best story in this collection. "In a Bamboo Grove" is also a great story for this reason as eel, and the revelation at the end of it makes the reader feel like he is staring into the abyss. While the author understands that suffering can be turned into art, he does not find this a satisfying justification for why people suffer at all. He tries to escape his own melancholic nature by writing stories that are silly, like "Green Onions", which is by far the least interesting story in this collection. All of the humour in that story seems extremely forced and insincere. Akutagawa does not have the ability to laugh at the darkness of the world as some people do, and it shows. The only exception to the rule of Akutagawa's sad stories being better than his cheerful ones is "The Spider's Thread", which is a very beautiful story about The Buddha's attempt to save a man in Hell. Even though the story is ultimately a condemnation of human selfishness, there is something very soothing about it.

  • Steve
    2019-05-29 06:44

    I'm a big fan of the movie. The title story, interestingly, is not the same as the movie. Well, at least most of it. It's the following story in the collection, "In a Bamboo Grove," that Kurosawa based his masterpiece on. It's a good story, but not, by far, the best in the collection. (The title story "Rashomon," which precedes "Bamboo Grove" is one blackest stories I've ever read.) It's one of those rare instances where the movie is better than the story it's based on. It's not that the story is bad, it's just short, slight even. But it provided Kurosawa with a skeleton that he fleshed out into one the greatest films ever made. All those shadows and nuances and closeups from the film are not to be found in the story. The collection is odd. Haruki Murakami provides the introduction, but it's an introduction that seems geared, with its various references to Japanese writers I know nothing about, to the Japanese reader. Still, it is Murakami, and he is true student of writing. It turns out Akutagawa is not Murakami's favorite modern Japanese writer, though he greatly admires him. And, like Murakami, Akutagawa was a real student of western fiction. Still, as Murakami points out in this introduction, despite his technical brilliance something seems to have be missing in Akutagawa's writerly core. It would eventually mushroom into madness and suicide. In a number of these stories the reader will pick up, uncomfortably, with this writer's obsession with madness. This obsession is really on display in the story "Loyalty,"which is about a young nobleman, Itakura Shuri, who is losing his mind. It's impossible, since this story appears around the middle of the collection, to not think of the author is writing about himself.His head ached. He could not even apply himself to this reading, normally one of this favorite activities. The mere sounds of footsteps in the corridor or of voices in the house was enough to break his concentration. As the symptoms grew more severe, the tiniest stimuli kept preying on this nerves.If, for example, a black-lacquer tobacco tray bore a decoration of creeping vines in gold, the delicate stalks and leaves would upset him. The sight of sharp, pointed objects such as ivory chopsticks or bronze fire tongs would make him anxious. His condition finally deteriorated to the point where the intersection borders of tatami mats or the four corners of a ceiling would fill him with the same nervous tension he might experience in starting at sharp blade.As I said above, it's an odd collection. I'm sure it's in part meant to show Akutagawa's range as well as the arc of his career. The first half of the book is comprised of stories that take place in Japan's past. Kind of like a weird fusion of Borges and Jack Vance. There's considerable horror along with some black humor. One story, "The Nose," is a comic masterpiece. And then there's the horrific "Hell Screen," about a mad artist (natch), and his local ruler who wants a painting of Hell. What a wild story. Hints of incest, the supernatural, a crazy monkey, and cruelty. Poe would have loved this one. "Hell Screen" may be the best story in the collection. It's a must read.The last third of the book didn't hold my attention as well. These stories have a modern setting, and are often just as dark, but they lack the wonderful weirdness of the earlier stories in the collection. Definitely a collection worth reading, just don't come to it thinking the "Rashomon" of the movie is to be found in similar form.

  • Rhys
    2019-06-23 02:54

    The first Akutagawa story I ever read was ‘Sennin’, the first story in the Borges edited anthology *The Book of Fantasy*, and I was impressed with its quirky and ironic flavour. I resolved to seek out more Akutagawa, so I was delighted when I chanced on this Penguin Classics volume containing eighteen of his tales.It’s a retrospective of his entire life’s work (he died when he was only thirty five) and divided into four sections.The first section is devoted to his early stories. ‘Rashomon’ is the most famous because of the Kurosawa film, but in fact that film is a confabulation of two Akutagawa stories, not only ‘Rashomon’ but also ‘In a Bamboo Grove’. Picturesque and brutal, they contrast with the trio of delightful fantasies that follow, namely, ‘The Nose’, ‘Dragon: the Old Potter’s Tale’ and ‘The Spinder’s Thread’. Ultimately these are the three stories I am most likely to re-read, for their charm, although I appreciate they aren’t as powerful or significant as the monumental ‘Hell Screen’, which closes this section. ‘Hell Screen’ is a dark and fiery classic, a disturbing horror story with a particular Japanese slant that is non-supernatural and supernatural at the same time.The second section features three historical stories, ‘Dr Ogata Ryosai: Memorandum’, ‘O-Gin’ and ‘Loyalty’, all of which are worth reading but don’t really show Akutagawa at his very best.The third section, however, contains three absolute gems of tragicomedy, the brilliantly odd ‘The Story of a Head that Fell Off’, the offbeat romance ‘Green Onions’ and the superb absurdist comedy ‘Horse Legs’, which is possibly my favourite story in the entire collection, a lighter-hearted version of Kafka with a relentless logic of its own.The fourth section reveals Akutagawa in an entirely different light, as a tormented personality and depressive paranoid personality, struggling to keep a grip on his sanity. These stories are bleak and harrowing and difficult to read. ‘Daidoji Shinsuke: The Early Years’, ‘The Writer’s Craft’, ‘The Baby’s Sicvkness’, ‘Death Register’, ‘The Life of a Stupid Man’ and ‘Spinning Gears’ chronicle a tormented psychology and a life in despair. The last story reads almost like a profoundly literary suicide note, and in fact Akutagawa did take his own life before it was published.Nine of the stories in this volume are published in English for the first time here; and the book contains a perceptive and lengthy introduction by Haruki Murakami together with a chronology and extensive notes. It is an essential volume for anyone who loves the literature of the past 100 years.

  • Sam Quixote
    2019-06-07 23:39

    "Rashomon" tells the story of a "lowly servant" sheltering from the rain on the steps of a rashomon (outer castle gate). He has recently been laid off and sits pondering his future. He hears a sound and ventures inside the rashomon to see what it was. Inside are heaps of dead bodies from the recent plague and a strange old woman wandering about, going through the corpses' clothes. The servant attacks the old woman, strips her of her clothing, throws her onto the heap, and runs off. "In a Bamboo Grove" features a married couple and a robber. The story is told from the perspective of all witnesses and it emerges that the husband was murdered but who did it and why is the mystery. These are the two most famous Akutagawa stories and are an excellent start to the collection. However, afterwards they become quite mediocre and even a bit tedious. The forced gothic of "Hell Screen" plods along until a near hysterical ending that undermines the seriousness of the story, that of obssession and the artistic mind. "The Nose" is a very odd story about a priest with a very big nose, has it shortened, and it grows back again. It's one of those "be grateful for what you have, accept who you are" type tales and not nearly as brilliant as Gogol's "The Nose" (Gogol being one of Akutagawa's influences and, frankly, a better short story writer). As the title suggests there are 18 stories here but those are the only ones I can remember. The last couple in the section called "Akutagawa's Own Story" are interesting, with "Life of a Stupid Man" playing with form and presenting an interesting take on autobiography through small snippets of a life glimpsed in passing. "Spinning Gears" is the final story he wrote before his suicide (pills) and is about the slowly disintegrating mind of Akutagawa. The desperation and mounting paranoia give the reader an insight into Akutagawa's fragile and fractured mindset. The strange imagery is also fascinating. The spinning gears he sees around his eyes confuse and scare him while at every turn he sees signs of death - a decaying animal corpse, dying people in hospitals, and above all his morbid fear of going insane like his mother. I won't say I didn't enjoy the book as there were some stories here that were excellent, and whether it's Jay Rubin's translation or not, the writing was always of a high standard. And students of literature will find reading "Rashomon" and "In a Bamboo Grove" very rewarding as will film students who are interested in the work of Kurasawa who based his film "Rashomon" on those stories. But compared to other short story writers and other Japanese writers, Akutagawa isn't nearly on their level.

  • Kat
    2019-05-30 02:58

    I can't recommend this collection highly enough. I had previously read In a Bamboo Grove and thought the story masterful, but to discover the other works in this collection has been a journey of discovery. Akutagawa's range and depth is highly skilled; I loved the stories which combined the supernatural with social commentary. Favourites included the classic Rashomon, the bizarre afterlife of Horse Legs, the tragic ending of Spinning Gears and the incredible opening of The Story of a Head that Fell Off. These stories are incredible, and added to this are the excellent translation, introduction by Haruki Murakami and the extensive end notes. I'm really loving the Penguin Classics short story collections.

  • Yulia
    2019-05-30 00:55

    Hmm, these stories are so unlike what I'm used to expecting shorts to be like. They're like folklore or legends. It's quite impressive to think a once-living man could have created such timeless stories. Don't such narratives take centuries to shape, passed from one generation to the next by old women making yarn or silk thread? *********************************************************I'm not sure whether to be amused or annoyed that Murakami gives Akutagawa such grudging praise in his introduction to this edition. Couldn't the publisher find another Japanese or American author to give Akutagawa a proper tribute if this is indeed meant to attract contemporary readers? Or is Murakami's familiarity with Akutagawa enough to make fans of his (like me) want to read stories he doesn't really care for? Well, I read the introduction and have had my fill of this book. But I did buy it, so I suppose that's all the publisher really cared for.

  • Sonam
    2019-05-28 06:57

    Reading Akutagawa for the first time and I wasn't disappointed. If you read the short stories in one go, you might not be able to appreciate it completely, so my advice would be to take your own time.My favorite part of the book were the stories which were autobiographical in nature, it shows the deep depression and fears of the author but it also shows his skills as a writer in being able to turn his own fears and sadness into art.

  • Mike
    2019-06-27 23:37

    4 1/2 stars to be precise.

  • Lindz
    2019-06-05 06:41

    These collections of stories may have broken me.I realise the way the collection was edited and structured it's going for that kind of impact, and yes it hook line and sinker. Short story collection by their very nature are hit and miss, the way the author writes something, how the reader reacts to the piece. As Murakami writes in his introduction, this collection is a best of for Akuagawa. And, yeah, Akutagawa is good, really good, really really good. Classic Akutagawa, has this modern sensibility with the traditional stories of Japan. But it's more than that, there is an undercurrent of bitterness, sadness, frustration, cynisim and the pure joy of writing. So when you get to the later more autobiographical, something like Spinning Gears feels more raw than it would if I hadn't read Rashamon or Hell Screen. But Life of a Stupid Man and Spinning Gears might be one of the best discriptions of depression and anxiety I have read. Just the fear, frustration, the constant flow of ideas, arrogance and the apathy all rolled into one.But then there are the stories such as in the Bamboo Grove, Hell Screen, Green Onions or even Horse Legs which are all sad, tragic but wonderful, then you get these little strange stories in between, which still give texture and rise and fall to the collection. But throughout the stories, Akutagawa wears himself on the writing's sleave. And that is the cherry of the sundae, I felt like I got to know a version of Akutagawa that felt a little more honest than other authors.

  • Mallory
    2019-06-14 23:47

    This is a brilliant collection of short stories that highlights the modernist period perfectly. Akutagawa's mind is filled with dark humor, cynicism, and grit. His reflections on his own life (the last third) are horribly beautiful, and the progression of his depression becomes more and more evident as the end draws near. Overall it was gloriously heartbreaking, and Jay Rubin did a brilliant job with the translation (as far as I know- I don't speak Japanese).

  • R K
    2019-06-21 01:48

    In 2016 I realized that I have a fondness of reading books from other countries. When you read about different people in different places and time periods you just come to many realizations one of which is that we are all more closely linked then we assume. Cultures may be different but deep down we are all humans beings and thus we are capable to experiencing the same thing another human being is able to.I specifically wanted to read the "literary novels" from different countries because it gives you an idea of how different cultures view similar themes so I set out to read the prized work of many authors from all over the world. Akutagawa Ryunosuke is just one of the many authors I have chosen from Japan and it was good. Really bloody good.To start with I would like to thank Jay Rubin for the translation of Akutagawa's work. The more famous stories have been previously translated but there were some that have been translated for the first time in this book. You can see that Rubin has put a lot of work into the translation from Japanese to English without loosing the rich language composition that Akutagawa is famous for. I am not able to compare for authentic translation but Rubin included much beforehand about the translation process and about Akutagawa himself and that much dedication told me that he really treasured this task.There was also an introduction by Haruki Murakami that gave insight to why Akutagawa's work is famous and relevant in Japan's literary world.These three introductions gave a really good boost before I delved into the stories. If you're considering to pick this up, I would definitely read these prologues as they give insight to the author himself and to the meaning of this works. Before I start, a little background info about me, it seems that as I grow older my patience with flower language is diminishing. After having read A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry I came to the realization that you do not need flowery language in order to write a good book. All you need is a theme/message that you want to educate to your readers. In fact the more flowery language used the more is becomes apparent that the book is lacking a point. Now of course there are exceptions and conditions to this "rule" but I, for the most part, need a break from paragraphs describing how the trees and rain reflect the MC's emotions blah blah blah.Now let's get to the actual collection of short stories. There are 18 in total, Rashomon being the first and probably most famous. Akutagawa's writing is known for its wit and cynicism. He is able to completely immerse a reader into the plot and yet tell the full story within a few pages. There was not one story that bored me or felt rushed or too simple. Every story was just brilliant. It astounds me how he was able to reveal the truth about humanity in such a subtle way without having to put his characters in intense situations. What I mean is, normally, in order to read books about the "darker side of human nature" you would have to look into books that put their characters in extreme situations. Life or death, murder, locked in with a psychopath/serial killer, psychological horror/thriller, you get it, nothing that can be labeled as "normal". It's as if people are afraid of admitting that these "dark side of human nature" behvaiours are normal and can be found in everyday society which is what Akutagawa reveals. Each of his characters are just normal people from different ages/eras/genders/positions and they undergo life as it is for them. Through this he reveals such raw reactions of humans that don't ever shock you because you end up thinking that their reaction is a natural response to their situation yet there is an awareness that he is trying to critic society and the reader. Critic them and then ask them if what his characters did was correct or if there is even such a conception of correct. His writing, from what I can tell in English, is stupendous. It's witty, humorous, short (as in, to the point), illustrative, raw, and melancholy. There is a lot about his writing that reveal his inner struggles as a writer and in his own stories, he reveals his inner emotions, struggles, regrets, guilt, and finally, fears.One of Akustagawa's struggles is his avoidance of responsibilities. He had to take one much for one man in a time where women didn't earn money. Each new addition to his family further deepens his self hatred. In order to get away from life's responsibilities, he turns to writing and reading. Putting to ink the emotions he is restricted from revealing to those around him. His own stories are a stream on consciousness writing and it's sad. Many times while reading his own stories I wanted to be able to speak to him and talk as a friend. It also amazed me how the emotions and feelings he's going through are still relevant in today's time. This was thankfully my copy and I highlighted and tagged this book to death.I can see why his works are so revered because they deserve to be. All of his stories will stay with me and I will for sure go back and reread them for sure. A definite recommendation to all.

  • Aria
    2019-06-02 05:38

    Unfortunately not as beautifully translated to English as it is beautifully written in Japanese. (I was fortunate enough to have a Japanese friend read and explain the original texts to me.) Nevertheless, hats off to Jay Rubin for his translations, and for the insightful footnotes included within this book.