The Essential Akutagawa: Rashomon, Hell Screen, Cogwheels, a Fool's Life and Other Short Fiction Paperback – 1 May 1999
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Sadly, Akutagawa's stories were among the first translated when Japanese literature became an academic field in America. Not that his stories aren't worthy of translation. After all, who hasn't at least heard of the film 'Rashomon,' the very title of which has entered the English language? The unfortunate aspect of this is that Akutagawa's stories have often been translated by individuals who are far from proficient in the Japanese language. And these decades-old translations are still the only ones available in English, in spite of their shortcomings.
Sadly, this recently-published collection of Akutagawa's stories is not the sorely-needed volume of new and skilled translations that the author deserves. Instead, it is a repackaging of the same old versions that have been making the rounds in various volumes of Japanese literature for decades. Granted, there have been a small number of editorial updates. Even so, countless egregious errors in translation still stare forth from the pages of this book ('Cogwheels' is quite literally unrecognizable when compared to the original, and nothing short of incompetent). And far from being an "essential" volume of the stories of Akutagawa, this could more accurately be described as a rogue's gallery of well-intended misfires in the history of Japanese literature in translation.
This book is by far one of the best collections of Akutagawa's work. There are hard to find stories in here and his range as a writer are displayed to the reader. All the stories are great here, and the classics such as Rashomon and In a Grove are included, but the treasures are the visceral "Hell Screen," the cultural investigations of "The Ball" and "The Faint Smiles of the Gods," the surreal "San Sebastian," the horrific view inside the mind of Akutagawa in "Cogwheels" and the poetic "A Fool's Life"
plus, all the rest included in the volume are greatly executed pieces literature as well.
If you are interested in Akutagawa and would like read more and get closer to the mind of this amazing Japanese writer, definately pick it up. If can find this book, get it. And usually they aren't expensive.
I only wish they would issue out new printings so that it was easier for people to get a hold of and share.
Not only did Akutagawa live and write in an interesting time but he is one of those rare artists whose life is equally engrossing as his work. His family had a history of madness and Akutagawa lived with the constant fear of going insane, his latter works give us a glimpse of his slippage into insanity. These stories are brilliant, painful, sad, and artistically executed. I highly recommend this collection of short stories for it shows Akutagawa's diversity with his craft and its genres include: horror, parables, satires, and autobiographical works. Perhaps more importantly these stories show the nature of man and the flaws of the human spirit.