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Rashomon And Seventeen Other Stories (2006)

Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories (2006)
Rating
4.13 of 5 Votes: 4
ISBN
0143039849 (ISBN13: 9780143039846)
languge
English
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publisher
penguin classics
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Rashomon And Seventeen Other Stories ...
Rashomon And Seventeen Other Stories (2006)

About book: When I read my first Murakami, a compilation of short stories called "After the Quake," I was amazed by his refreshing originality. Some of his stories, indeed, had the effect of an earthquake to me. There were jolting, sudden and unexpected turns. In one, a man and a woman, after a brief introduction, make love. Then, out of nowhere, the man felt a sudden impulse to kill her. In another story, the characters were on a beach. Tears suddenly flow down from the eyes of one character, then they talk of killing themselves. Developments like these come without warning as they were not even hinted in the previous narration.Now, it can be told. This style of storytelling is not at all original. Murakami, I think, copied it from this great Japanese writer who killed himself in 1927 at the age of 35--Ryunosuke Akutagawa (in the list of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die he's under letter "R"--a mistake, because his surname is Akutagawa, not Ryunosuke). By his own confession, Murakami has been reading Akutagawa since he was a teenager.I bet that if one includes Rashomon in that compilation "After the Quake" an uninitiated reader will not find any difference between it and the rest of the stories there except that the latter have modern settings while "Rashomon" is set in 12th century Japan."Rashomon" ("Mon" being the Japanese for gate) was an outer castle gate, specifically the great southern main entrance to Kyoto during the Heian Period. It had massive pillars, towering archways and several chambers. The whole city of Kyoto, at the time of the story, was under civil unrest. People were hungry, even the Rashomon itself had become dilapidated for lack of proper maintenance. In the upper chamber thereof was dumped the city's dead, the victims of the prevailing hunger and violence.In the lower chamber sits a servant who had just lost his job. He is said to be waiting for the rain to stop but he knows that even if the rain stops he really has nowhere to go and nothing to do. He had come to the dreadful conclusion that he would either die of starvation or survive by being a thief.The mood is somber, the descriptive prose is elegant, fluid and spontaneous. Just like Murakami (in his short stories). Then the servant sees something...Thereafter comes one event after another which felt like Murakami's earthquakes, with a similar ending that leaves unanswered questions.In the Introduction to the life and works of Akutagawa a Japanese literary critic, in 1917, described him (Akutagawa) as "a writer who can't write without props." I was amused by this because elsewhere in goodreads before, discussing Kafka on the Shore with a Murakami fanatic K.D., I wrote that Murakami had used a lot of juvenile, ineffective props here (like talking cats, mother and son fucking, eels falling down from the sky, etc.) which were not even original as you can see parallels from Greek mythology and even in works of Lewis Carroll. The Introduction also declared:"Sheer technique...though skillfully applied, does not necessarily translate into original literature. A fictional world that was not truly (the author's) own and that used borrowed containers would eventually reach and impasse and come to stand in his way like a high wall. Further pursuit of fictional method could only yield technical polish. And not surprisingly, the novelty would wear thin and readers would tire of seeing the same devices."Wow, I myself could have said this after reading Kafka on the Shore! Now, guess who wrote this introduction? Close your eyes and bang your head on the wall--Haruki Murakami himself.LOL!

Obviously the difficulty of rating collections of stories is the fact that they don't necessarily all rate equally. About a third of these stories are easily knock-out 5-star fantastic. The other two-thirds I'd rate mostly 4 stars with a few 3 stars. All worth reading and in general I think this is probably a good intro to Akutagawa's work in that it contains a nice cross-section of his work from the earliest historical stories to his later primarily autobiographical stories.I personally preferred the earlier stories which ranged from tales of Samurai warriors and Shoguns and stories of religious persecution when Christianity was making inroads in Japan to satyrical stories about unfortunates with big noses.* While the settings are completely foreign to me, the characters are people I know all too well. My favorite story being "Hell Screen" in which an egotistical painter is commissioned to paint a screen depicting the horrors of hell. In order to sketch the scenes, he puts his assistants through a myriad of tortures and all I'll add in an effort to not give too much away is that karma is a bitch! These early stories have an almost Victorian gothic creepiness to them but it's a bit more subtle and far more insidious in that it seems infinitely more real. And Akutagawa has a nice dollop of humor running throughout these early stories as well.The later autobiographical stories in which he writes of his mother who went mad, of his infidelities and his fear of going mad himself and his increasing depression that led to his eventual suicide are painful to read in how human and easy to relate to they are. But having read Dazai's similarly themed autobiographical stories not too long ago, Akutagawa didn't have quite the gut punch that Dazai had for me. Akutagawa's story "The Spinning Gears" was the best of the autobiographical bunch for me. Throughout, he continues to have visions of gears that nearly block out his vision. Those of us who have the luxury to think about life beyond just worrying about food and shelter can probably all relate to this nightmare of the cogs of life just taking over. The horror element of his earlier stories definitely comes into play here.There's a slightly strange intro to this collection by Haruki Murakami which is far more critical of Akutagawa's work than I might have expected though it did seem like a relatively fair critique. I'm glad I read it after reading the stories though.-----------------------*When I studied Chinese, my teachers were all native Chinese, mostly on exchange and when we learned the word for "nose" we also learned that Americans are frequently called "big nose" so I had a good chuckle seeing that the Japanese are equally amused by big noses.
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Reviews
David
In his (undated ... perhaps 2006?) introduction, Haruki Murakami gives us what he thinks would be Japan's 10 most important "writers of national stature". They are writers that "left us works of the first rank that vividly reflect the mentality of the Japanese people ... [the works] must have the power to survive at least a quarter century after the writer's death. ... The important thing is whether each of them as an individual human being embraced an awareness of the great questions of the age, accepted his or her social responsibility as an artist on the front line, and made an honest effort to shape his or her life accordingly."Haruki believes the top 10 to be:#1. Sōseki Natsume. Equal #2 are: 2.Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, 2.Ōgai Mori, 4.Shimazaki To son, 5.Shiga Naoya, 6.Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, 7.Yasunari Kawabata. Equal #8 are: 8.Osamu Dazai, 8.Yukio Mishima.He can't think of a tenth name for the list(!). Which is cute if you are a fan of Kenzaburō Ōe. Haruki is such a bitch. He goes on to say that "Kawabata's works, to be honest, have always been a problem for me. ... I have never been able to identify very closely with his fictional world." And "With reagrd to Shimazaki and Shiga, I can only say that I have no particular interest in them ... what I have read has left little trace in my memory."So old Kenzaburo has been excluded from Haruki's list of 10 ... which only includes 9 ... and of which, 3 he really doesn't have time for? Ouch.But Haruki's obviously mad. He seems to say that Botchan can be "memorized whole by most school children". What?On to Akutagawa ... I liked the "I" stuff the best.
Madhulika Liddle
It’s hard to review something like Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories: it’s too complex, too often inducing a “What was that I read?”, too deep, and yet approachable, very readable. I found this book by chance while surfing Goodreads, and was immediately attracted by Rashōmon, since I am a fan of Kurosawa’s, and am all admiration for that particular film (the plot of which, ironically, draws more from Akutagawa’s In the Bamboo Grove than it does from Rashōmon itself). I bought the book and told myself that I’d read it slowly, one short story at a time—and found myself caught like a fly in a spider’s web. I ended up reading most of this book in long stretches, until my eyes hurt. The eighteen stories are very diverse in nature: there are ghosts here, and dragons. There is hell, both somewhat distant, seen through the benevolent eyes of the Sakyamuni in The Spider Thread, and close, horrifying, macabre—as in Hell Screen. There are tales of a Japan torn between tradition and modernity, of battles between Christianity and older, local beliefs. There are battles, too, between man and man, and—most forcibly, most searingly, the stories of man’s battles with himself. The latter are brought most vividly (and disturbingly) to life in the last section of the book, which brings together six autobiographical stories by Akutagawa. As I progressed through this book, I went through a range of emotions. I laughed at the quirky humour in The Nose, Dragon: The Old Potter’s Tale and Green Onions. I shivered at the cruelty of Hell Screen. And I couldn’t help but wonder how much of Spinning Gears (which was published posthumously, after Akutagawa killed himself in 1927) was real, and how much was not. This is a brilliant book. It’s rich, textured, detailed. The imagery is often breathtaking (“She had a radiant face, like the morning sun on a thin sheet of ice”), and the layers are fascinating, peeling away from the mundane, even comical, to the wryly profound. As an example: ”He put a cigarette in his mouth and was striking a match when he collapsed face-down on his desk and died. It was a truly disappointing way to die. Fortunately, however, society rarely offers critical comment regarding the way a person dies. The way a person lives is what evokes criticism.”The translator, Jay Rubin, also provides useful notes on stories and their elements, which help in a better understanding of the story (especially for someone not familiar with Japan and its culture). In addition, there’s a brief but good biography of Akutagawa, and a superb introduction by Haruki Murakami. I would advise reading all of these, besides the stories that comprise the book: they help get a better insight into the author, and so add to the experience. I ended this book feeling both oddly deflated and inspired. As a writer, I can’t help but be inspired by writing of such stature. As a writer, too, I can’t help but feel that I cannot possibly ever write as brilliantly as this. Not a book I am going to forget in a hurry, if ever.
Steve
An interesting collection of short stories,'in the bamboo grove', 'hell screen' and 'O-Gin' are excellent short stories of moral. Enjoyed a lot. I confess I was interested in getting to the autobiographical ending of the book since Akutagawa famously ended his own life and his own insight into his depression seemed to be a good place to understand why he or anyone else would want to end their own being.I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed with the outcome here, but maybe that in is the point. (view spoiler)[Every thing is just so mundane (hide spoiler)]
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