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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Akutagawa Ryūnosuke

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To purchase The Essential Akutagawa

Title: Cogwheels
Author: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
Genre: FRiction
Written: 1927 (Eng. 1974)
Length: 36 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: in The Essential Akutagawa - US
in The Essential Akutagawa - UK
in The Essential Akutagawa - Canada
  • Japanese title: 歯車
  • Translated by Cid Corman and Susumu Kamaike

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid personal sketch

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 22/12/1988 Ian Buruma

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The complete review's Review:

       Cogwheels is among the last pieces Akutagawa wrote, and much of its power stems from the knowledge that it is thinly veiled autobiography, the observations and thoughts of a man on the precipice.
       The first person narrator describes a number of events and encounters, a sort of wandering in lost thought. The significant does happen -- his brother-in-law commits suicide (as happened to Akutagawa at that time as well), and responsibility for his sister's family falls on him -- but his mind is already so crowded and disturbed that even something like is just another ripple.
       He turns to books (including Strindberg, who "describes experiences not unlike my own") but they offer little escape or respite, and certainly not answers. The narrator recognises that he is deeply troubled but does not know where to turn or what to do: it is a book of despair, and ends with a dark cry for help:

Isn't there anyone to come and strangle me quietly in my sleep ?
       Cogwheels is of interest because of the insight it shows into Akutagawa's mind near the end of his life: it is barely fiction at all. The atmospheric and evocative sketches are effective, and it makes for a convincing portrait of a very troubled man, but stands less on its own than as part of the Akutagawa-myth. (Editions that include this piece inevitably provide the necessary background information, making at least the outlines clear to readers.)

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Akutagawa Ryūnosuke: Other books by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (芥川 龍之介) lived 1892 to 1927.

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