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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Akutagawa Ryunosuke

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To purchase Rashomon

Title: Rashomon
Author: Akutagawa Ryunosuke
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2006)
Length: 262 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Rashomon - US
Rashomon - UK
Rashomon - Canada
  • and Seventeen other Stories
  • Translated by Jay Rubin
  • Introfuction by Murakami Haruki

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a good dose of both familiar and new Akutagawa stories, and very useful supporting material

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 20/8/2006 Donald Richie

  From the Reviews:
  • "The renderings are what one expects from the exemplary translator of Natsume Soseki (fittingly, the author under whom Akutagawa studied). And an unusually rich "extraliterary context" is provided. (...) Other stories in the Rubin collection, including some famous ones, read as though for the first time -- so bad were some prior translations, so good this one. So good that one wants more." - Donald Richie, The Japan Times

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:

       Among the difficulties of getting much of a feel for the works of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke is that while there has been a steady flow of translations of his work into English for almost a century now, these have come piece-meal and jumbled together (just see the other volumes we have under review), with the best-known stories now available in numerous translations at the same time as much of his work remains untranslated. Add to that the absence of any accessible biography -- and the shadow cast by Kurosawa's film-adaptation Rashomon -- and the picture gets, at the very least, quite messy.
       This Penguin Classics edition must now be considered the standard introductory text, the first volume that readers interested in the author should turn to. It only contains eighteen stories (a decent but not overly-generous selection), but does include many of the most significant (and most translated) tales: the two stories Kurosawa's film is based on, the brilliant 'Hell Screen', and the autobiographical summings-up 'The Life of a Stupid Man' and 'Spinning Gears' (the latter title more commonly translated as 'Cogwheels'). It also includes several previously untranslated stories. (The only work that's sorely missed is 'Kappa' (see our review of Geoffrey Bownas' translation).)
       Rubin's translations are solid -- though not always as approachable as, for example, Charles De Wolf's in Mandarins (a collection that appeared shortly after Rubin's); see our book group discussion on Akutagawa's Mandarins for some discussion of the differences. But in all other respects the Penguin Classics edition is near-exemplary, especially as far as the wealth of supporting material goes. The endnotes are thorough and helpful (though Akutagawa is a writer of such many-layered allusion that there could be considerably more ...), but it's the introductory material that is particularly helpful.
       Murakami Haruki's Introduction gives a good overview of the author, and if it is also a very personal view of Akutagawa at least Murakami is one Japanese author that many Western readers can adequately relate to (through familiarity with his own work), making it easier to position his reactions than would be the case with a lesser-known Japanese author.
       A detailed Chronology, as well as Rubin's own Translator's Note, are also informative and helpful. With so much of Akutagawa's writing using autobiographical elements all this material is particularly welcome.
       The selection shows Akutagawa's range -- and obvious talents -- and does cover much of his most significant work. Likely, though, it will also make the reader want more -- and, unfortunately, there's not that much more that is readily accessible.

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Rashomon: 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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