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Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) Paperback – March 3, 2009
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About the Author
Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927), short-story writer, poet, and essayist, one of the first Japanese modernists translated into English. He was born in Tokyo in 1892, and began writing for student publications at the age of ten. He graduated from Tokyo University in 1916 with an English Literature degree and worked as a teacher before becoming a full time writer in 1919. His mother had gone mad suddenly just months after his birth and he was plagued by fear of inherited insanity all his life. He killed himself in 1927.
Haruki Murakami has written eleven novels, eight volumes of short stories and numerous works of non-fiction, as well as translating much American literature into Japanese. His most famous novels are Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore.
Jay Rubin has translated several of Murakami's works into English and is also the author of Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words. He has been professor of Japanese Literature at the Universities of Washington and Harvard.
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For much of Akutagawa's early career, he delved into Japan's literary past. The story "Loyalty" is a complex tale based on a true event that took place during the Tokugawa period, when the young head of a noble family went insane, creating a crisis among his samurai retainers. Samurai were meant to be loyal to the death, but that loyalty also extended to the Shogun. If one's master posed a thread to the Shogun, where should your loyalty lie? This is the problem that faces two very different retainers, each of whom must make an almost impossible decision. The story explores not only loyalty, but the issues of sanity, respect, obligation, and shame.
Some of the more humorous stories include "Horse Legs" and "The Story of a Head That Fell Off", both involving dead men who suffer terrible humiliations, one at the hand of some spiritual bureaucrats, and the other because of a medical miracle. But the final section of the book, which include those selections that tell Akutagawa's own story, is possibly the most moving and compelling. Akutagawa's childhood was difficult, as his mother went insane shortly after his birth. He was afraid of mental illness for the remainder of his life, and the final story of the book, "Spinning Gears" tells the tale of his last months spent in depression and constant anxiety. He suffered from insomnia, hallucinations, and constantly worried about his own sanity. It is the final passage of the story that conveys Akutagawa's overwhelming despair:
"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"
The story was published posthumously in 1927, the year Akutagawa took his own life. The story progresses toward that inevitable conclusion, and gives us an insight into Akutagawa's tortured mind.
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.
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this country. I'd say give it a shot if you're looking for an interesting read.Read more