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Mandarins Paperback – 4 Feb 2010


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Product details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: ARCHIPELAGO BOOKS (4 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0977857603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0977857609
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 18.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,337,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Reader in Tokyo on 31 July 2008
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
An Alternate Angle on Akutagawa 25 Oct 2007
By Crazy Fox - Published on Amazon.com
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. Whatever the case, all of the stories herein showcase Akutagawa's uncanny ability to focus an uncompromising lens intently into the darker corners of the human heart and the murkier ambiguities of the human condition as always while also demonstrating his surefire grasp of the dread and anxiety inherent in our experience of modernity, whatever its erstwhile advantages may be.

Charles De Wolf does an excellent job of rendering Akutagawa into English, it should be mentioned, and provides just the right amount of background material for each story: not so much that the text is overburdened with footnotes, but enough unobtrusively in the back of the book that now nearly a century after these stories were first published their intended context and assumed knowledge are right there at one's fingertips, along with the original titles and publication dates and such. De Wolf has also done extensive work with the medieval tale collections and Buddhist miracle accounts so often re-interpreted by Akutagawa and so is in an unusually good position to clarify for the reader just what kind of spin Akutagawa is putting on these, at least for the few translated here. This then is an indispensable short story collection both for those with an abiding interest in modern literature (Japanese or otherwise) but especially for longtime Akutagawa fans who will surely enjoy seeing his work from a new and somewhat rare perspective--even if the effect is a bit, well, Rashomonesque.

Stories included in this book:
1. Mandarins
2. At the Seashore
3. An Evening Conversation
4. The Handkerchief
5. An Enlightened Husband
6. Autumn
7. Winter
8. Fortune
9. Kesa and Morito
10. The Death of a Disciple
11. O'er a Withered Moor
12. The Garden
13. The Life of a Fool
14. The Villa of the Black Crane
15. Cogwheels
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Shows Sides of This Author That Differ from the Usual 20 July 2008
By Reader in Tokyo - Published on Amazon.com
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.

For the late period, there were the two autobiographical ones that anthologies usually present for this author ("The Life of a Fool" and "Cogwheels"), but also one that was impressive for its restraint in not being obsessively autobiographical, though it was published just a month before his death ("Winter"). There was also a late work that wasn't directly autobiographical at all ("The Villa of the Black Crane").

The works set in the present covered such themes as an idealist from the Meiji Period who married for love but was disappointed. The passing away of a Meiji Period family and its tranquil garden in the wake of modernization, and the shabby but blackly humorous death of a patriarch. And a story about a contemporary woman who married unhappily, rare for this author in that its main character wasn't a man. None of these tales contained any violence, ghosts, h-ll screens, burning carriages, robbers or Rashomon.

Among the tales set in the present, the pieces enjoyed most in this anthology were "Mandarins" (1919), a memorable vignette of observation and feeling during a train ride taken by the narrator. And "Winter" (1927), a masterful depiction of the narrator's visit to his cousin in a Tokyo prison. This was a fictional tale, though it drew from experiences in the author's family.

Some of the other stories, interesting though they were for their themes and the scope they afforded on the author's career, for me at times lacked the precision and force of his very best works. "O'er a Withered Moor" and "The Villa of the Black Crane," for example, seemed to go on much too long, with too many characters and comparatively little reward.

The translator's style was quite graceful and in my opinion compared well with other recent anthologies. His endnotes maintained a focus on the author's stories, not the life, usefully highlighting various background aspects. For example, possible intentions behind the writing of "The Handkerchief," which was modeled on a prominent personality of the time. The fact that elements in a story about a Christian martyr were drawn from a legend surrounding the origin of the bodhisattva Kannon. And that depending on the Japanese characters used, the name of the "black crane" villa in one of the stories could also be written as "hallucination."

Other recent anthologies for Akutagawa include Jay Rubin's Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories (2006) and Seiji Lippit's The Essential Akutagawa (1999). All have their strong points in showing various sides of this author, and readers who enjoy this author would doubtless want to read all of them.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A welcome addition to Japanese literature shelves. 4 Nov 2007
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
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.
Grandfather of the Japanese short story 13 Feb 2014
By TonyMess - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you research Ryunosuke Akutagawa on the web, you’ll find numerous references to him being the “father of the Japanese short story”, in fact my edition of “Mandarins” says that in the back cover. Akutagawa was raised by his uncle as his mother had gone mad only a few months after his birth, in 1892. This event was to haunt him throughout his life, the fear of insanity. Only living 35 years, to have produced hundreds of short stories, before his suicide from a barbiturates overdose, is an amazing achievement. Akutagawa’s most well known story is Rashomon , primarily due to Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 successful movie of the same name, the film is in fact based on two of Akutagawa ‘s stories, “Rashomon” (for the setting) and “In A Bamboo Grove” (for the characters and the plot). Both of these stories as well as later works by Akutagawa, where his fear of madness comes to the fore, can be read in the Penguin Classics “Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories”.

I chose the Archipelago Books “Mandarins”, not to avoid the more well known tales, but as a supporter of independent publishing (especially in translation) I thought this would make a more appropriate read.

For my full review go to [...]
Needed Mandarins 30 Oct 2013
By Zachary Sporn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first read Akutagawa's stories while book shopping in a tourist center in Japan, but gave the collection I had bought away to a friend. Every time I looked for Akutagawa's work in bookstores in the U.S. they had some combination of Rashomon/Hell Screen etc, but never "Mandarins". I bought this book just to get my hands on the short story I fell in love with, and kept going because of Akutagawa's writing. A definite must-read for fans of Japanese writing/storytelling/culture.
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