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Mandarins: Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0977857609
ISBN-10: 0977857603
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

There's a lot more to Akutagawa (1892-1927) than his short story "Rashomon," made famous by the Kirosawa film, and not among these 13 tales, delicately balanced worlds in miniature. Newly translated, they evoke the lost splendor and conflicts of Rashomon's Meiji Era. "The Garden" depicts a crumbling inn belonging to the once-great family Nakamura; presciently, the last surviving relative, Ren'ichi, has abandoned the land to attend art school in Tokyo. Titled after a line from Basho, "O'er a Withered Moor" re-creates, in an quiet Osaka residence, the mournful last moments of a great man's life, surrounded by his grieving, anxious disciples. The exquisite "Kesa and Morito" is made up of soliloquies by two lovers who contemplate murdering Kesa's husband in order to consummate their conflicted longing for each other. Modern tales include the vignette "Mandarins," the account of a ennui-laden train traveler who looks on in delighted astonishment as his young peasant co-passenger throws oranges to her brothers, waving as they pass. Akutagawa's stories are gorgeous and intimate.
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The flow of his language is the best feature of Akutagawa’s style. Never stagnant, it moves along like a living thing . . . His choice of words is intuitive, natural – and beautiful.—Haruki Murakami

The works of Akutagawa comprise, in the literary sense, an indispensable anatomy of melancholy. He was both traditional and experimental and always compelling and fearless. As Joseph Brodsky said, Akutagawa loved the world strangely. There is no writer quite like him. The translations of Charles De Wolf make for the perfect duet between languages. This is a wonderful collection. —Howard Norman

Extravagance and horror are in his work but never in his style, which is always crystal-clear.—Jorge Luis Borges

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Archipelago (July 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0977857603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0977857609
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,267,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If one wants to read the vaguely disturbing stories of Akutagawa Ryunosuke, the "Father of the Japanese Short Story" in English translation, there are any number of good collections available. This one is a little different, though, and not just because it includes three works never before translated. Akutagawa is justifiably famous for taking old tales from classical Japanese literature and giving them an unusual psychological twist--this is by far the Akutagawa most familiar to readers abroad, but retold tales in this line are after all only one aspect of this versatile author's overall literary output. That being the case, the translator here has wisely chosen to de-emphasize (though not entirely ignore) such stories and focus instead on Akutagawa's more explicitly modern--and modernist--works, many from the latter years of this fine author's unnaturally short life.

Some of these stories are clearly autobiographical, giving us precious glimpses of what it was like coming of age as an educated youth in early twentieth century Japan as well as startling and uncomfortable gazes into his slow and unsteady descent into mental instability. Others, largely non-autobiographical, are just good old finely crafted explorations of the human condition rendered through the words and actions of characters that seem memorably real. Others still fall somewhere in between, like "O'er a Withered Moor"--ostensibly a fictional retelling of the death of the Haiku poet Matsuo Basho surrounded by his disciples and a meditation on selfishness and mortality, it is also clearly a reflection by Akutagawa upon the recent death of his own mentor, the novelist Natsume Soseki.
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Format: Paperback
This book was published in 2007 and contained 15 short stories by Akutagawa. As far as could be determined, six of the stories appeared in English for the first time.

The collection might surprise readers who come to this book looking only for macabre, psychologically intense stories set in the past, like "Rashomon," "In a Grove" and "Hell Screen." The translator included a few stories broadly of this type, like "The Death of a Disciple," "Fortune," and "Kesa and Morito" (1918), a brilliantly reimagined event from Japanese medieval times told in the first person, from the clashing perspectives of a man and a woman. But like other reviewers wrote, mainly this anthology seemed intended to show readers a wider variety of styles in this author's career than one usually finds. That's its major accomplishment. It might be enjoyed especially by those who are familiar with Akutagawa's best-known stories and seeking an introduction to other types of works.

There were tales here, for example, from the author's early career set in contemporary times, presented without a narrator ("The Handkerchief," "Autumn," "The Garden"). There were tales set in the present and incorporating a narrator who stood in for the author ("Mandarins," "An Enlightened Husband," "An Evening Conversation"), though the autobiographical element in this period was usually rather light. From his middle period, there was a story that was more strongly autobiographical ("At the Seashore"), based on details from the author's days as a university student.
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Format: Paperback
Skillfully translated from the original Japanese by Charles De Wolf, Mandarins: Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa is an anthology of short stories written during the all-too-brief life of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927). Fluidly evoking 1920's Japan, in an era when traditions were in flux and the yearning for personal liberty burned brightly, Mandarins features characters who struggle against the society around them. The three stories in Mandarins, translated into English for the first time, are "An Enlightened Husband", "An Evening Conversation", and "Winter". At times cruel, at times fantastically descriptive, Akutagawa's prose resonates with a piercing clarity on every page. A welcome addition to Japanese literature shelves.
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