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Essential Akutagawa: Rashomon, Hell Screen, Cogwheels, a Fool's Life and Other Short Fiction Paperback – May, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 207 pages
  • Publisher: Marsilio Pub (May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568860617
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568860619
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,086,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By skytwo on November 17, 2003
Akutagawa Ryunosuke is regarded as one of Japan's most significant 20th century authors, and although his work might seem a bit dated to the savvy 21st century reader, there is no denying the fact that he was a master of the short story form. Chief among his strengths were a remarkable ability to build atmosphere and a knack for tightly-constructed narrative. At his best, he could even be a gifted raconteur, capable of turning an otherwise heavy-handed moral parable into a humorous reflection on modernity and the human condition. Akutagawa was also a tragic figure-- bleak cynicism and bitter irony run throughout his stories, and he eventually committed suicide.

Sadly, Akutagawa's stories were among the first translated when Japanese literature became an academic field in America. Not that his stories aren't worthy of translation. After all, who hasn't at least heard of the film 'Rashomon,' the very title of which has entered the English language? The unfortunate aspect of this is that Akutagawa's stories have often been translated by individuals who are far from proficient in the Japanese language. And these decades-old translations are still the only ones available in English, in spite of their shortcomings.

Sadly, this recently-published collection of Akutagawa's stories is not the sorely-needed volume of new and skilled translations that the author deserves. Instead, it is a repackaging of the same old versions that have been making the rounds in various volumes of Japanese literature for decades. Granted, there have been a small number of editorial updates. Even so, countless egregious errors in translation still stare forth from the pages of this book ('Cogwheels' is quite literally unrecognizable when compared to the original, and nothing short of incompetent).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Book of Margins on May 16, 2006
The translation is not as bad as some of the reviews make it out to be. At times (I can count them on my hand)sentences may seem a little awkward but by no means does this hinder the story telling in any way. Akutagawa's use of language is not full of rhetoric that would be hard to translate. That's the beauty of his work: each line has it's own energy and he doesn't bog it down with flowering up the language. It's subtle, strong and poetic.

This book is by far one of the best collections of Akutagawa's work. There are hard to find stories in here and his range as a writer are displayed to the reader. All the stories are great here, and the classics such as Rashomon and In a Grove are included, but the treasures are the visceral "Hell Screen," the cultural investigations of "The Ball" and "The Faint Smiles of the Gods," the surreal "San Sebastian," the horrific view inside the mind of Akutagawa in "Cogwheels" and the poetic "A Fool's Life"

plus, all the rest included in the volume are greatly executed pieces literature as well.

If you are interested in Akutagawa and would like read more and get closer to the mind of this amazing Japanese writer, definately pick it up. If can find this book, get it. And usually they aren't expensive.

I only wish they would issue out new printings so that it was easier for people to get a hold of and share.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rosanna on September 1, 2011
Akutagawa Ryunos'ké--a Japanese modernist writer--uses his subject matter to reflect the social turmoil, loss of identity, and changing environment of his times. Akutagawa lived in a rapidly changing world due to modernization. Some of the most drastic changes that contributed to or were a result of modernism include: the changes in transportation which enabled people to travel in a totally new way and changed people's conception of time, the introduction and assimilation of foreign culture (Western dress and furniture, influence of Western artists, directors, and writers, etc., adaptation of capitalism), and a rise in consumerism which led to the commodification of art forms. His stories in this collection reflect the repercussions of modernization, illustrating the egotistical nature of humanity, the subjectivity of truth and morality, and the struggle with identity due to a changing world.

Not only did Akutagawa live and write in an interesting time but he is one of those rare artists whose life is equally engrossing as his work. His family had a history of madness and Akutagawa lived with the constant fear of going insane, his latter works give us a glimpse of his slippage into insanity. These stories are brilliant, painful, sad, and artistically executed. I highly recommend this collection of short stories for it shows Akutagawa's diversity with his craft and its genres include: horror, parables, satires, and autobiographical works. Perhaps more importantly these stories show the nature of man and the flaws of the human spirit.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MoonYen on September 14, 2006
Akutagawa, while popular in the 70's is near impossible to find good collections of his works nowadays. This collection has some of his more well known pieces as well as my favorites, "Cogwheels" and "A Fool's Life." These two gems are worth their weight in gold. I highly suggest this book for these two masterfully written "suicide letters."
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A. Smith on April 12, 2000
A collections of Akutagawa's work that truly is "essential." Akutagawa breaks down conventional narrative boundaries with such classics as "Cogwheels" and "Hell Screen." "Rashomon" is a chilling tale of a traveler's encounter with an old thief. What the thief is stealing is what is shocking, and the morals and ethics that Akutagawa explores are extremely interesting. This book is a must have for fans of Japanese Literature.
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