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Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Ryunosuke Akutagawa , Haruki Murakami , Jay Rubin
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Mar 2006 Penguin Classics
Ryünosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) is one of Japan's foremost stylists - a modernist master whose short stories are marked by highly original imagery, cynicism, beauty and wild humour. 'Rashömon' and 'In a Bamboo Grove' inspired Kurosawa's magnificent film and depict a past in which morality is turned upside down, while tales such as 'The Nose', 'O-Gin' and 'Loyalty' paint a rich and imaginative picture of a medieval Japan peopled by Shoguns and priests, vagrants and peasants. And in later works such as 'Death Register', 'The Life of a Stupid Man' and 'Spinning Gears', Akutagawa drew from his own life to devastating effect, revealing his intense melancholy and terror of madness in exquisitely moving impressionistic stories.

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Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories (Penguin Classics) + Kokoro (UNESCO Collection of Representative Works) + Some Prefer Nettles (Vintage Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Tra edition (30 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140449701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140449709
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description

About the Author

Akutagawa Ryunosuke, 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 (Introducer) 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 (Translator) 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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First Sentence
Evening, and a lowly servant sat beneath the Rashomon, waiting for the rain to end.* Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Just to avoid any potential confusion, it should be noted that there are two separate volumes containing a selection of Akutagawa's shorter fiction in English translation, both entitled "Rashomon and Other Stories". Firstly, there is a slender but excellent volume of six tales translated by Takashi Kojima, originally published in 1952 but reissued in 1999. This contains the bulk of Akutagawa's most widely known and most accessible short stories: as well as the title story, the selection includes "In a Bamboo Grove", "Dragon", "The Martyr", "Yam Gruel" and "Kesa and Morito".

Secondly, there is a more recent and much more comprehensive collection of eighteen short stories translated by Jay Rubin, and issued as a very handsome Penguin Modern Classics edition in 2006 with a fascinating introduction by Japanese literary lion Haruki Murakami, as well as copious background notes by the translator. Again we get the popular Heian Period tales "Rashomon", "In a Bamboo Grove" and "Dragon", but also the chilling "Hell Screen" - arguably Akutagawa's masterpiece. Then there is a group of three unexpectedly moving tales set around war-torn seventeenth-century Nagasaki, including the surprisingly touching story "O-Gin" involving failed (or is it failed?) martyrdom. Another fascinating collection of three stories under the heading of "Modern Tragi-Comedy" shows that Akutagawa was capable of surprising (though admittedly dark) comedy: try the touching but determinedly anti-romantic "Green Onions", for instance. Finally, a collection of six autobiographical tales gives us very different perspectives on Akutagawa's own life, from childhood to his tortured, barbiturate-addicted twilight years before his eventual suicide.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By Greshon
Format:Paperback
After having read the late important work, Kappa, recently, I came away with the impression that Akutagawa was a writer whose work is both hard to read and possibly incoherent - incoherent to me, at least. Kappa me seemed an inferior Gulliver's Travels, and most of the time I just couldn't work out what the author was trying to say. Was it just nonsense?

This volume of short pieces has changed my mind. Maybe it's the translation, maybe not. The duty this time has fallen to Jay Rubin, translator of many of Haruki Murakami's novels into English. These are all new Rubin translations, many of them translated into English here for the first time. These pieces are lucid and easy to read, but not similar enough to the translations of Murakami to make me think Rubin is merely imposing his own style on these texts. Unless the text was difficult when originally published, there is no reason to translate older texts from one language into an archaic version of a second language. When these texts were written, though they were full of obscure (to the Japanese at least) Western references, they were in natural Japanese. The translations, accordingly, should be in natural English. Rubin also surprises in his amazingly learned, insightful introduction and his copious, illuminating notes.

It maybe the subject matter rather than the translation which makes this an altogether different read than Kappa. Kappa is a flight of fantasy, albeit with a serious allegorical purpose. These texts are all, more or less, ground in reality. There is a section of tales about old Japan. Two of these, Rashomon and In the Bamboo Grove, both vivid and thought-provoking tales, formed the basis of Kurosawa's famous 1950s film.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new love 15 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have not seen Kurosawa's film, so I came to this book uncontaminated with preconception. Akutagawa's prose is so fluid and he catches you with such beautiful quirks of description, such sharp whips of humour, and so many revelations of his humanity and depth in a short space that it's no wonder he is considered one of Japan's greatest writers. An effortless read packed with variety and pleasure. You have to buy it and see.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Death and madness 29 Mar 2010
By Sam Quixote TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
"Rashomon" tells the story of a "lowly servant" sheltering from the rain on the steps of a rashomon (outer castle gate). He has recently been laid off and sits pondering his future. He hears a sound and ventures inside the rashomon to see what it was. Inside are heaps of dead bodies from the recent plague and a strange old woman wandering about, going through the corpses' clothes. The servant attacks the old woman, strips her of her clothing, throws her onto the heap, and runs off.

"In a Bamboo Grove" features a married couple and a robber. The story is told from the perspective of all witnesses and it emerges that the husband was murdered but who did it and why is the mystery.

These are the two most famous Akutagawa stories and are an excellent start to the collection. However, afterwards they become quite mediocre and even a bit tedious. The forced gothic of "Hell Screen" plods along until a near hysterical ending that undermines the seriousness of the story, that of obssession and the artistic mind. "The Nose" is a very odd story about a priest with a very big nose, has it shortened, and it grows back again. It's one of those "be grateful for what you have, accept who you are" type tales and not nearly as brilliant as Gogol's "The Nose" (Gogol being one of Akutagawa's influences and, frankly, a better short story writer).

As the title suggests there are 18 stories here but those are the only ones I can remember. The last couple in the section called "Akutagawa's Own Story" are interesting, with "Life of a Stupid Man" playing with form and presenting an interesting take on autobiography through small snippets of a life glimpsed in passing.
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