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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Akutagawa Ryunosuke

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To purchase Mandarins

Title: Mandarins
Author: Akutagawa Ryunosuke
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2007)
Length: 225 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Mandarins - US
Mandarins - UK
Mandarins - Canada
  • Translated by Charles De Wolf
  • Fifteen stories, including three translated into English for the first time

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid collection, good variety

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Asahi Shimbun . 6/10/2007 Michael Hoffman
Bookforum . 9-11/2007 Masha Tupitsyn
The Japan Times . 19/8/2007 Donald Richie

  From the Reviews:
  • "Even if we didn't know the author's tragic circumstances, we would sense something of them in his work. Beauty is long ago and far away, love is more than most of us can handle; the imagination is vibrant but, of course, imaginary, while reality is coarse, and life crushes the life out of us. Reading Akutagawa is not always a happy experience, but it is always a rich one." - Michael Hoffman, Asahi Shimbun

  • "Though trained as pragmatists to match the new wave of Western thought, where multiple points of view signify modernity and cultural sophistication, Akutagawa’s characters spend their days in "spiritual twilight," locked in the solitary confinement of their thoughts." - Masha Tupitsyn, Bookforum

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Mandarins brings yet another few previously untranslated Akutagawa-stories into English, as well as providing new translations of several old favourites, including 'The Life of a Fool' and 'Cogwheels'.
       A solid introductory selection, it shows Akutagawa's range: from re-workings of classic Japanese stories to his introspective slices of (his) contemporary life there are examples of much of what he was able to do here. In particular, his sense of "being tormented by the fin-de-siècle demons" comes across well, a fascinating Japanese variation on the theme.
       De Wolf's translations read well, though without an introduction and only limited endnotes (which do, however, provide a bit of story-background for each of the tales) the book does not provide much supporting material. Given the (continued) piece-meal presentation of Akutagawa's oeuvre in English (and the overwhelming shadow of Kurosawa's Rashomon) some readers may find themselves a bit at sea without additional information; the book is perhaps (despite a bit of overlap) more usefully read in conjunction with the Penguin Classics collection, Rashomon (a new translation by Jay Rubin). Yet even without additional information providing context Akutagawa's stories exert considerable fascination.
       (For a fuller discussion of the book, see also our book group discussion on Akutagawa's Mandarins.)

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Mandarins: Reviews: Akutagawa Ryunosuke: 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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