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Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 30 Mar 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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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: 13 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 105,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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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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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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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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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I read Rashomon and 5 of the short stories included in the book more than 20 years ago and to this day they are among my all time favourite written works. Excellent example of the Japanese literature.
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Format: Paperback
This is a review of Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, translated by Jay Rubin and published in 2006. Not Rashomon and Other Stories, the name of two other books by other translators that contain only a handful of tales and were published years ago. Why Amazon groups the three books together despite their different contents, I don't know. No stars for them.

The author, Akutagawa (1892-1927), is even today considered one of Japan's most accomplished short-story writers. As some reviewers say, he's not for everyone. But readers attracted to the dark, pessimistic and atmospheric, or to the introspective and psychological subtleties conveyed with style in his best stories, might find some of his works worthwhile.

He published about 150 stories between 1914 and his death; a scholar of his work has written somewhere that about half of them are still readable. There's a big gap between the best and the rest. Before this collection, at least 60 of the stories had been translated into English since the 1930s. Here, eight more appear in English for the first time. The translator claimed nine, but a translation by Lawrence Rogers of "The Death Register" appeared earlier, in 2002.

Akutagawa's short-story career can be divided roughly into three periods. In the early works, from 1914 to 1922, at his best he drew inspiration from Japanese folktales and history and a range of non-Japanese sources, focusing on the characters' psychology to make them strikingly modern. Of the early works, the best known in English are "The Nose" (1916), "Kesa and Morito" (1918), "H-ll Screen" (1918) and "In a Grove" (1921), besides the vignette "Rashomon" (1915).
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