Fiction/short stories, stories originally published independently in Japan from 1914 - 1922, this collection in English translation, 1952
Liveright, trade pb, 102 p.
Translated from the Japanese by Takashi Kojima
Illustrated by M. Kuwata
Ryunosuke Akutagawa wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century when Western industrialism and culture mounted an assault against the pride of traditional, insulated Japan. Whether he set his fictions in centuries past or close to the present, Akutagawa was a modernist, writing in polished, superbly nuanced prose, subtly exposing human needs and flaws. “In a Grove,” which was the basis for Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon, tells the chilling story of the killing of a samurai through the conflicting testimony of witnesses**, including the spirit of the murdered man. The fable-like “Yam Gruel” is an account of desire and humiliation, but one in which the reader’s sympathy is thoroughly unsettled. And in “The Martyr,” a beloved orphan raised by Jesuit priests is exiled when he refuses to admit that he made a local girl pregnant, regaining their love and respect only at the price of his life. All six tales in the collection show Akutagawa as a master storyteller and an enduring voice of modern Japanese literature.This book had been languishing in my TBR stacks for quite some time and I’m so glad I finally read it. This slim edition contains six stories, including the title story “Rashomon”, and the story “In a Grove”, which the movie Rashomon is based on. (Confused?) These two stories are the ones that have stuck in my mind the most vividly although I really did enjoy all of them. Akutagawa is renowned for his precision with words and this did come across in what seemed to be a good translation however I’m sure much of the subtlety of the original was lost. (Let me lament again the fact that I can't read Japanese). Now that I’ve read these, I’d love to read more of Akutagawa’s stories. I’m quite tempted to get the Penguin Deluxe edition, not only for the fantastic cover, and the introduction by Haruki Murakami, but especially since it contains several more stories. I’d also like to finally watch Akira Kurosawa’s film.
Final verdict: Well worth reading this modern Japanese classic!
**A little trivia: The title of the story "In a Grove" (藪の中, yabu no naka) has even become an idiom in Japan, “used to signify a situation where no conclusion can be drawn, because evidence is insufficient or contradictory.” (from Wikipedia)
Read "In a Grove" online
My Rating: 4/5
(#3 for 2008, Japanese Literature Challenge 2, Reading Japan, 1% Well-Read Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge)
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