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picks up the gauntlet

薮の中・将軍 (角川文庫)

Author: 芥川 龍之介 (あくたがわりゅうのすけ)

Summary

Japanese

中国の一名画にまつわる伝説に取材、夢幻的芸術美の世界を描いた「秋山図」、文豪トルストイの強烈な個性をツルゲネフとの交遊の中に浮き彫りした「山鴫」、『今昔物語』に依拠して真理の絶対性への懐疑を卓抜な技巧的構成で提示した「藪の中」、神格化された一将軍の虚飾を剥ぐ「将軍」等、テーマ、スタイルに多彩を示す大正10年作品を収録。

English

Akutagawa wrote a series of short stories set in Heian period, Edo period or early Meiji period Japan. These stories reinterpreted classical works and historical incidents. He was a strong opponent of naturalism. Some of his short stories have more modern settings.

Length: 322 pages (but see reading suggestion below)
Category: hard&slow

Availability

Amazon
BookWalker
Aozora Bunko (free, but some are not rewritten in modern Japanese)

Personal Opinion

I watched the movie “Rashomon” by Akira Kurosawa which retells Akutagawa’s “In a Grove” (藪の中). (Interestingly, only the title and the frame scenes set in the Rashomon Gate are taken from his other short story “Rashomon”.) So I wanted to read 藪の中 and that’s how I ended up buying this book.

Also, the author is very renowned: He is regarded as the “Father of the Japanese short story” and Japan’s premier literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after him.

For the reading club, I think the full book might be too long, but many of the short stories are less than 20 pages, which makes them ideal for a weekly reading assignment. It would be nice if we could pick a handful of the stories and read them together.

The stories in the book have been rewritten in modern Japanese; I did not research all of the Aozora stories though. The start of the first story in the book is identical on Aozora, but other Aozora stories use old Kana, so we’d need to check on a case-by-case basis.

Pros and Cons for the Book Club

Pros

  • Short stories :wink:
  • Adjustable length (because short stories)
  • Famous author
  • Some of the stories are translated to English (for those interested)

Cons

  • Stories from his later life are distinctly autobiographical (which might be depressing due to his deteriorating physical and mental health)
  • Some of his stories reinterpret classical works and historical incidents, which might be hard to fully understand without knowledge of these foundations.

Samples

See BookWalker preview and Aozora.

Difficulty Poll

How much effort would you need to read this book?

  • No effort at all
  • Minimal effort
  • Moderate effort
  • Significant effort
  • So much effort my head might explode
  • I don’t know
0 voters
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