The Akutagawa Prize Reading Challenge

Bookwalker has a campaign as of today for both prizes (芥川賞・直木賞) leading up to the announcement of the winners on 7月14日.

posting it here since it might be a fun way to look through the nominees for this year’s prizes, and perhaps even pre-empt this year challenge wise, for a little bit of a discount…

The page also highlights (and discounts) some past nominees and winners.

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I finished it, and I loved it! Maybe because of my background, but it resonated with me quite well. Also, the style was quite straightforward (the protagonist is not the most philosophical person), so it was easy to understand. There were parts where the protagonist’s senpai is writing a book, that was a bit more difficult to grasp, but still within my limits.

The book itself is about a guy who works at a server hosting company, and his boss decides to mine bitcoin using their unused capacity. He will be in charge of implementing it, probably mostly because as a pun - he’s called Nakamoto Satoshi.
The story besides that is about his relationship with his girlfriend, and the aforementioned senpai.
What really disturbed me that Nakamoto refers to his phone as iPhone 8 every time… we learn that girlfriend has an iPhone SE and senpai an iPhone X (I bet he has a higher salary!). Maybe it’s to show how much he cares for phones and tech stuff, but it lowkey drove me mad.

All in all, I recommend it to anyone who works at IT companies, I bet it will feel familiar.

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Breaking news: Li Kotomi, born in Taiwan, just won the Akutagawa prize! She only started learning Japanese when she was 15. An inspiration for us Japanese learners! Maybe a Wanikani user is next? :smiley: She’s the second non-native to win the prize.

Her novel is called 「彼岸花ひがんばなが咲く島 」(The island where red spider lilies bloom, a fictitious island between Taiwan and Japan).
This (short) article has a bit more info:

This article also talks about the other winner, from a Japanese native currently living in Germany, Ishizawa Mai’s 「貝に続く場所にて」:

As the winners were only announced on July 14, even the (english) Wikipedia article on the prize hasn’t caught up yet.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akutagawa_Prize

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Wow, now I really want to read both of the winning works!

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I’ve started reading 貝に続く場所にて (one of the 2021 winners) today and it … takes a lot of focus. I’ve only read the first couple of pages and most of it is basically a description of the environment and people tinged with the feelings of the protagonist. It’s interesting, but flowery and at times hard to grasp.

It looks like through the course of the entire book, there is no dialoge. All conversations are part of the descriptions and paragraphs are long. While the vocabulary isn’t particularly obscure, I had to look up way more words than in the books I’ve read lately. Maybe 2-4 times as much.

I usually add about one word on average per page to my Anki deck. Here I added about 60 on the first 8 pages or so. It definitely takes way more time to read than I expected, maybe comparable to 風立ちぬ or 人間失格, but I’m sure I’ll get faster as I progress.

I can’t really say anything about the content yet, but I’ll report back once I’ve read more.

Here’s a short passage:

お久しぶりです、と思しき言葉の形に口が動こうとしたが、断絶した時間の長さに思い至ってか、声にならず曖昧な笑みに口元は小さく崩れていった。それでも軽いが丁寧な会釈を見て、何かがつかえる痛みと共に、記憶はばらばらに解けて用意していた言葉は失われた。こんな風に挨拶する人だった。私の寄せ集めて壊れた記憶は声を上げる。顔や姿よりも、そのしぐさに九年間が繫がろうとする。同時に、陽に透けないほどの存在感を抱えている姿に安堵したのだった。死者であろうとも影は足元に溜まる。私もまた言葉代わりの会釈を真似て返す。その下手な鏡像性に互いに苦笑したが、唇を一度動かしてしまえば、会話の始点は自然に置かれた。長い旅でしたね、と言えば、幾通りの意味も踏まえた上で野宮は頷き、少し疲れました、と自然な笑みを形作るのだった。

Edit: Okay, I just read some Amazon reviews and apparently even native speakers find it hard to read:

非常に読みにくい

毎回芥川賞や直木賞が発表されると気になるタイトルの本を購入して読んでいるが、
その中でもこの本は非常に読みにくかった。

他の方は「修飾語が多い」と書いていたが、
「一体何が言いたいのか?」と読み進める事にストレスさえ感じてしまった。"

Edit²: Wow, reading the reviews of the other winner, 彼岸花が咲く島, a lot of people seem to be very angry about the way a foreigner talks about their prime minister and country. Guess this shows how nationalist Japan as a country is. Definitely just became a must-read for me.

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For those of you who are interested in reading 乳と卵 but who haven’t felt like reading it on their own: We now have a bookclub for it!

We’re currently discussing the schedule, and the club will start on Sept 18th. And the best part: Once you finished it in the club, you can tick it off here in the list as well! :tada:

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If you liked コンビニ人間 and haven’t read むらさきのスカートの女 yet, there is a point back sale on amazon.co.jp right now, which means you pay 1100 yen, and get back 550 points.

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How is your progress with the book? Did you manage to fight through its difficulty?

Anyways, just wanted to let y’all know that I’ve added the new winners at the top of the list, but they are just listed and not part of a poll yet. The reason for this is that polls cannot be edited later on, so if I create a poll straight away after the new winner(s) is/are announced, that would mean creating a tiny poll with 1 or 2 books every 6 months…
Therefore I thought I’d rather collect the new winners as a list for the time being, and whenever somebody finishes one of them, please ping me and I will turn the list into a poll. This way chances are that I can group the new winners into somewhat larger polls as the new winners are not always being read straight away… :sweat_smile:
But if you finished one of them straight away, please don’t hold back and tell us here!

Thanks for your understanding!

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I was confident that I’d be finishing quickly, but I got distracted, so I’m still at 25%. I found the second chapter much easier, though, but the style remains more or less the same, so it’s never something to breeze through. Still determined to get back into it, but since I’ll be busy until October at least and have another (easier) book I’m currently reading, it’ll probably still take a while~

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So, after 5 months I finally read the English translation of 乳と卵 (because I wanted to be able to stalk the ABC threads :grin:). The translation doesn’t have a short story bonus, instead it contains a 乳と卵 “sequel”, but I only read the first book.

Aaand I didn’t like it. :sweat:

Maybe it was too literary for me. :thinking:

But beside the ending I also didn’t like characters personalities, especially adult sisters. (And yes, I’m taking their life circumstances into account.)
And random digressions.

But I liked descriptions of bodily functions, just, it was only a nice bonus, not enough for me to be a backbone of the book.

All in all, it felt like it could be a nice setting, but… a story itself was missing? :sweat_smile:

Still, looking forward to see what the ABC’s impressions will be! I’m especially curious about opinions regarding “what is the meaning of this” :upside_down_face:

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I revisited your review on this after finishing the book myself (and seeing it linked on readnatively), and I have such a different opinion of this book! :joy: I agree on a surface level with all the themes and such you described, and also that it’s interesting from a learner’s perspective. I guess it was just really not my style at all, sadly.

Towards the middle, that is the latter half of the first story, I was actually pretty interested in where the story was going. And while it was interesting to see these characters’ lives in this way, it was just not going anywhere. Which is fine, that’s life. I just don’t want to read 100+ pages written in this style about it. :see_no_evil:

Thanks to the club, and the quick pace, I managed to finish it in good time, at least. :heavy_check_mark:

Edit:

I think we’re in agreement on this! :smiley:

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Just wanted to share with you all (in case you haven’t seen it yet) that @KazeTachinu wrote a review on 推し、燃ゆ in the tadoku thread. (Big thank you by the way! :blush:)

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Today the winner of the 166. Akutagawa Prize was announced. It is 砂川文次’s「ブラックボックス」- I’ve added it to the list in the OP. If you read it, please ping me and I’ll add a new poll where you can tick it off.

BTW Bookwalker has a discount on the Akutagawa and Naoki prize shortlisted books until Jan 27th: 「第166回芥川賞・直木賞 受賞発表記念キャンペーン」 | 電子書籍ストア-BOOK☆WALKER

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If anyone would like a free audiobook of this, the voice actor Kaji Yuuki has read it on his YouTube channel here:

(I’ve not listened to it through as it’s above my level at the moment but would expect it to be good based on the standard of other things he’s done)

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Just to avoid any potential confusion, judging by the description it seems to not quite be the whole book, but just the first 40 pages

(still a cool find though)

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woops, I should probably have read that before posting it lol. I can’t seem to find a full length audiobook for this that he’s done (though I’ve not done a major search) so I guess it’s just a little taster then. Maybe he wanted the job of doing the audiobook lol.

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Yeah I guess this is just a promo thing and one can probably buy the full audiobook somewhere. Anyways, I think it’s great to have those things to easily try out a book (for those peeps who have enough vocab and can follow at their reading speed anyways :sweat_smile:)

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Copied from the Now Reading thread:

I finally finished 貝に続く場所にて! Only took me what, about 7 months?

grafik

I really don’t know what to say about this book except that I never really knew what it wanted to tell me. It’s about a Japanese woman from Sendai living in Göttingen, Germany where she encounters the ghost of an old acquaintance who passed away during the March 2011 tsunami.

From there one her memories interweave with the townscape, sculptures of planets, art history, religious figures, the ghosts of other people. There’s a truffle dog who digs up objects that hold a special place in people’s memories and the entire book is full of symbolism and never really states anything in clear words.

I’ve read other books where I enjoyed the poetic, kinda flowery language (風立ちぬ comes to mind), but here I just had no clue what I was even reading for paragraphs on end. It wasn’t a vocabulary problem and probably also not a language problem first and foremost. I think could’ve gotten a bit more out of the book if I had done a bit of research. Survivor’s guilt is definitely a big theme, but there’s just so many things flowing together that it’s really hard to say what else.

I bought the book because of its premise, but I really struggled to get into it. I’m glad that I managed to finish it, but I don’t think I’d do it again and will probably drop other books that I just feel I can’t get into from here on.

That why I also won’t judge the book. It just flew over my head. It’s not unusual that I don’t completely get literary works – I definitely did have my problems with キッチン and 推し、燃ゆ. But 貝に続く場所にて was on a whole new level.

Maybe I’ll try to read some reviews. If anyone else reads it, please tell me your opinions.

I also thought it would be a short read with only 160 pages, but the text is so dense that it’s about the same length (93k characters) as many 300 page novels, so you definitely shouldn’t assume this is a quick read. It took me about 4 minutes per page, significantly more than other books I read.

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I finished 沖で待つ (2005)!

Yet again a short story collection, with three very different stories, but I enjoyed reading them.

勤労感謝の日
This story is about unemployment and society‘s expectations regarding marriage, I’d say. However it did feel so, so short! It was 50 pages, but there were so many things hinted at, and I was really looking forward to reading the continuation of the story and to seeing the relationships develop a bit more. Which is why I don’t have much more to say about the story, really.
Language-wise, this story used quite an amount of more casual and colloquial speech, which I haven’t seen that extensively in many books yet. (乳と卵 being the exception)

沖で待つ
This one really felt more like a complete story. Work life is the focus here, but also friendships at the workplace are one of the main topics.
I really didn’t expect the ending of this story.
(General spoilers and thoughts I had in the beginning) The best friend/colleague of the protagonist is overweight and gets kind of bullied (?) for it? His nickname is 太っちゃん, and he gets comments at work, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He gets married to one of the デキる女 at work and nobody seems to understand why a guy “like him” gets together with her. These sorts of comments. Because of this “bullying” I expected the story to be about suicide and mental well-being. It’s strongly hinted at in the beginning and also in one of the conversations that the protagonist has with 太っちゃん.
(Ending sort-of spoiler?) However he does not commit suicide, which I really didn’t expect. It’s known from the beginning that 太っちゃん dies at the end, because the whole story is retold as a flashback, and I definitely think Itoyama wants you to think it goes in a certain direction. But in the end, it was kind of wholesome, really. It wasn’t a sad story, it just felt realistic and real.
You also see Itoyama’s previous experience working for a tile and sanitary manufacturer before becoming a writer. It’s really cool to read in such detail about the work life in a company, dealing with customers, architects, products, etc.

みなみのしまのぶんたろう
The title says it all, really. Warning: this story is written only in hiragana. Story-wise, it also feels like a children‘s book. The story is kind of absurd, with random details being thrown in that have no further relevance, and everything feels like it’s written for children.
The protagonist is the Minister of Electricity, and one day he decides to eat a delicious-looking bento that is sat on the table in one of the conference rooms. He doesn’t know whose bento it is, but whoever it belongs to, they can just eat his bento in exchange, right? However it was the President‘s bento, and the president, as a punishment, sends him away to an island in the south, where he is now supervisor of a power plant. The story then goes into a completely different direction, as ぶんたろう learns that he can talk to fish. His boring ひとりぼっち life changes completely and he spends time with his new fish friends every day, also rescuing some people along the way.
I always expected there to be some sort of lesson learned, some sort of moral of the story, that the character somehow shows signs of character growth (because I didn’t find him very likable; he‘s arrogant and egoistic – although to be fair, there is a bit of character growth: he stops eating fish once he befriends them), but almost everyone seems to like him. But maybe that is exactly what the author intended to portray: most people just lead their lives, with no karma coming their way to punish them for anything they might have done wrong.
I thought there would be a big twist, like his wife leaving him or forgetting about him, his friends never visiting because they actually were only interested in him because of his influence as Minister. But nothing like that ever happens, which made the story feel kind of simplistic and very linear.
It is a children’s story, really. I don’t think there’s a better way to describe the way the story felt to me. She even adresses the reader directly at some point: どくしゃのみなさんは、じゅうねんまえといえば、まだうまれてもいなかったでしょう。

I did realize, however, that even without kanji I managed just fine. Sometimes parsing takes a bit longer, but you get used to it quickly. The first page, I was like “this is gonna take ages”, but in the end I hardly even paid attention to the fact. Knowing lots of vocabulary definitely helps. :smiley:
ぶんたろうがだいじんになってじゅうねんのひびがすぎました。ぶんたろうからみたらこくみんたちはみんな、でんきのおんけいにあずかってしあわせにくらしているようにみえました。 ← imagine this for 50 pages

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Today I also finished 沖で待つ (2005), my second Akutagawa book (after a number of failed attempts) :tada:

I can wholeheartedly agree with everything @Myria said in her review. To add a little bit to it:

勤労感謝の日
For this story I very much liked how outspoken and even blunt the protagonist was in her thoughts, and thus in her criticism on the Japanese society. It felt very short, and I would have liked to stay with her some more.

沖で待つ
Really wholesome story, I liked it a lot. And I also thought this felt more like a book than a short story. Admittedly, it is the longest of the three stories, but not really by much (maybe 20-25 pages or so?). Interesting how different my perception was compared to the first story.

みなみのしまのぶんたろう
This was indeed a children’s story. I got lots of 小川未明 vibes. The tone was very similar (although the general setting was not), and it had this same rambly storytelling to it where you would never be sure what the story tries to aim at.
The hiragana was indeed pretty annoying at the start, but I got better and better at it over the course of the story. The only thing that was really hard was to find my reading position again after having looked up a word on my computer :joy_cat:

General thoughts
Generally speaking, all three stories surprised me in the way they unfolded. Or maybe in the way they didn’t unfold. :upside_down_face:

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