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Kappa (Peter Owen Modern Classics) Paperback – 11 Nov 2003

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Peter Owen Publishers; New edition edition (11 Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0720612004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0720612004
  • Product Dimensions: 12.3 x 1 x 18.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,029,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A devilishly cool satire on human behaviour --New Statesman

A novel of exquisite precision --Spectator

A classic of our times, from a literature that deserves to be better known --Scotsman --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

RYUNOSUKE AKUTAGAWA (1892 - 1927) was the author of over a hundred short stories, as well as translations of the works of Anatole France and Yeats. Akutagawa was regarded as a major author during his lifetime, and the Akutagawa Prize, established after his suicide at the age of thirty-five, is now one of Japan s most prestigious literary awards. Two of the stories from his collection Rashomon formed the basis of the award-winning film of the same title by Akira Kurosawa. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By L. C. Jones on 10 Feb 2002
Format: Paperback
First, a note of introduction. Kappa are mythical creatures once thought to have inhabited Japan's lakes and rivers. A kind of beaked, amphibian monkey with scales, they were horrible little monsters that lured people into the water to devour them, or to extract an equally mythical pearl-like organ via the unfortunate victim's anus. Kappa are now viewed distinctly differently by the Japanese, as cute and cuddly mascots or commercial or community icons. Akutagawa's novel represents an important point in the evolution of these creatures, but it also represents far more.
Kappa is a satire of Japanese society and will probably remind readers of Sir Thomas More's 'Utopia', which satirised English society in the early sixteenth century. The tale is recounted by a doctor in a mental asylum, whose patient claims to have visited Kappaland and lived there for several years. In Kappaland, many things are very different from Japan; it is almost an inversion. Sexual and societal norms are turned on their heads, so that it is the women who voraciously pursue the men, for instance. Militarism is not eschewed in Kappaland as in Japan, but rather favoured as a method of population control. Abortion is not an issue, since children are asked, before emerging from the womb, if they wish to be born; if they do not, they are not, and instead shrivel away. Capitalism in particular comes under a particularly savage critique, with unemployed workers being eaten as a matter of course by the others. When the protagonist challenges this apparently barbaric practice, he is told that the practice of selling daughters into prostitution and capitalism's other deprevating effects as prevailing in Japan are far more barbaric.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sporus on 18 Oct 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First published in 1927 'Kappa' is barely a novel, being a little under 100 pages long (although this edition has an excellent 43 page critical biography on Akutagawa). The book bears a striking comparison with 'Gulliver's Travels' partly because of the economy of the language, partly because of the satirical intent - but mainly because there's a psychological spring at work here that makes the fantasy disturbingly trenchant. It's telling that once back in the 'real world' both Gulliver and 'Patient No 23' are filled with a sense of disgust and a longing to get back to a land where they actually felt themselves to be an inferior species. A classic short story; although, rather like Soseki's 'I am a Cat', its aim of criticising the Japanese society of its era might restrict its broad appeal.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
The distorted mirror of Kappaland 29 Oct 2003
By Zack Davisson - Published on
Format: Paperback
"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.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Exponentially irreverent 19 Dec 1997
By - Published on
Format: Paperback
One of Akutagawa's most famous novellas. Although not really comparable to his more serious work ("In the Grove", "Rashomon", "Hell Screen" &c.) it springs out of necessity for a brilliant man to view its world through the prism of satire. Even though it's basically a satire of Japanese society from the first half of 20th century, most of its themes, admonitions and ridicules are still quite valid today.
What still amazes me about this book (and other Akutagawa's works as well) is how the writer manages to develop characters (and in this case an entire imaginary culture) to such fullness, given the rather (spatially) limited medium of a novella.
Highly recommended reading.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
a book with a difference 20 Aug 2002
By Libri Mundi - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Kappa" is one of the best books of Akutagawa - one of the least appreciated authors of pre-war Japan. Kappa can be compared to only one book that I remember of and that is Karel Capek's award winning "War with the Newts". Kappa was ages ahead of its time especially considering the society in which Akutagawa was living in.
This is a story about interactions of a human being, whose sanity is in question, and the Kappas, some mythical creatures. This is a satire in the essence that Akutagawa draws critical picture of Japanese intellectual society and their egos and vanity. The Kappa society is an equitable representation of the human society with the same set of problems but different set of solutions. This is one of those books which is a must for a good collection.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Jonathan Swift Japanese style? Not quite but ... 26 Feb 2001
By M. J. Smith - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is difficult to fairly rate Kappa because, while it is excellent and entertaining, it is not equal to the exquisite Rashomon collection. Neither is the book the equivalent of Gulliver's Travels although there is a distinct similarity. Rather Kappa is the story of a human in the world of mythical water creatures, Kappa. The narrator is an unnamed patient in a mental hospital; thus the framework of the story is one of a narrator whose reliability is open to question. Within this framework, Akutagawa manages to build a credible world satirizing Japanese culture. He skewers art, politics, marriage, philosophers - all with a light but wicked wit that keeps you laughing and cringing in recognition.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Memorable satire 30 May 2005
By C. E. Stevens - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Kappa" is a wonderful lampoon of Japanese society written by the gifted but troubled Akutagawa Ryunosuke. Even though nearly 80 years have passed since Kappa was written, the people and subjects that Akutagawa impales with his pen (religion, capitalism, literature, abortion, heredity, etc.) are no less pressing today, making Kappa nearly as easy to analyze and enjoy now as when it was written.

Akutagawa's writing style is a joy as always, and the plot is familiar to readers of Robinson Crusoe or Alice in Wonderland (Akutagawa finished translating Alice in Wonderland the same year he wrote Kappa). Adapting the tale to Japan, Akutagawa chooses to use an outsider to Kappaland in a role as a "specially protected person," much like foreigners were treated (and to a degree still are treated) in Japan. The reader is left with the question of whether Patient 23 is sane or not, and more importantly, has the world we live in gone mad? Despite the years that have passed since it was written, Kappa continues to be a fun and pertinent read. Reading Kappa, I am reminded of the great shame it is that the world lost as brilliant a writer as Akutagawa at such a young age.
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