Ryunosuke Akutagawa was born in 1892 and committed suicide in 1927 when he was 35 years old. He is the father of the short story in Japan. The stories of the author took me to different places in my head. Short, dark and chaotic, these three words would best describe his stories. Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories is published under the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition series, which is just perfect.

Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories - Ryunosuke Akutagawa

I’ve never read such different things in my life. The stories are compelling, and they all made me feel uneasy. I felt lost each time I finish one of them. At the beginning of the book is the foreword by Haruki Murakami. I have to say that this foreword is as beautiful as the stories. There is a short information about the Japanese language, and he also provides plenty of information about Ryunosuke Akutagawa. The translation of Jay Rubin, which I am familiar with from the Murakami translations, is as excellent as ever.

Short, dark and chaotic

Each time I finished a story, I had to wait for a bit to relax. So it took me a long time to read the book. I even read novels between the stories. Every story picks you up from where you are and makes you look into yourself deep down inside. You see, this is not a book that one can easily devour. Japanese literature is like the Japanese, it is one of a kind, it is unique. It may feel highly strange at first but do not give up and continue reading. As you get to know and become somewhat familiar to it, you will see how delicious its fruits are. You won’t regret reading it.

Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories - Ryunosuke Akutagawa

In addition to the stories, there is an introduction, Murakami’s foreword, the translator’s note, notes for further reading, and the reading of Japanese names. There is an explanation for everything you need to understand the stories in detail. There is also a part for Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

In Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, I was most impressed by the stories of Hell Screen and Horse Legs. Especially the references to the Horse Legs story and that glorious nonsense is worth reading. I can’t tell you about this glorious nonsense no matter how hard I try. It may be a bit worrying to see Akutagawa go a little more insane from story to story. Even though I have read novels between the stories, I could still see the change in him. This book is a must-read if you love Japanese literature. Enjoy!

About the book: Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories

Ryünosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) is one of Japan’s foremost stylists – a modernist master whose short stories are marked by highly original imagery, cynicism, beauty and wild humour. ‘Rashömon’ and ‘In a Bamboo Grove’ inspired Kurosawa’s magnificent film and depict a past in which morality is turned upside down, while tales such as ‘The Nose’, ‘O-Gin’ and ‘Loyalty’ paint a rich and imaginative picture of a medieval Japan peopled by Shoguns and priests, vagrants and peasants. And in later works such as ‘Death Register’, ‘The Life of a Stupid Man’ and ‘Spinning Gears’, Akutagawa drew from his own life to devastating effect, revealing his intense melancholy and terror of madness in exquisitely moving impressionistic stories.

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About the author: Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, art name Chōkōdō Shujin was a Japanese writer active in the Taishō period in Japan. He is regarded as the “Father of the Japanese short story” and Japan’s premier literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after him. He committed suicide at the age of 35 through an overdose of barbital.

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Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories - Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Japanese Literature – A Literary Journey

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