"Kappa" is told from the point of view of Patient 23, an asylum inmate who tells of his incredible journey into the heart of Kappaland, peopled by the Kappa, the magical creatures of Japanese folklore.
In the tradition of "Gulliver's Travels," inside Kappaland, Akutagawa, author of "Rashomon" and "In the Grove," has created a twisted reflection of both his contemporary Japanese society and his own self-loathing. It has been a difficult tale to interpret in Japan, being hailed as either a children's story, a social satire or simply weird. Akutagawa himself feared insanity due to his mother's mental deterioration during his youth, and his own justified fear of the taint of madness in his blood.
Akutagawa's mental state when writing "Kappa" is important background, and the paperback edition comes with an extensive mini-biography of the famous author that is almost the size of the story itself. Akutagawa never wrote novels, and it is strange to see a single story packaged in one book. The introduction/biography is well written as well, and helps to reveal the story.
The writing in "Kappa" is sharp and quick-witted. The satire is equal parts clever and odd. Religion, marriage, arts and entertainment, all are in part skewered and skewed. The book is an incredibly fast read, and one that you will want to pass to your friends to read as well, so that you can see what someone else makes of it.