Book review: two short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Two short stories
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

In a Grove  Rashoumon

These books count for the following Reading Challenges:       

  2015 ebook  Japanese Lit Challenge 9 

 New Authors 2015    2015 Translation


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I’m still not to sure why, but there is something in Japanese Literature that I find very attractive. I’m glad to participate every year in the Japanese Literature Challenge to read a few books. Time has come to look more closely at Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, regarded as the Father of the Japanese short story.


During his short life (1892-1927),
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa managed to write 150 short stories.
He committed suicide at 35,
suffering from a mental illness
inherited from his mother.

In a Grove

was first published in 1922.
The story is often praised as being among the greatest in Japanese literature.
Akira Kurosawa used this story as the basis for his award-winning movie Rashōmon. [Goodreads]

It retells the murder of a samurai whose body was found in a grove, a bamboo forest near Kyoto.
What’s really neat about the story is that we hear about what happened and how through seven narrators and witnesses, the last one being the murdered man himself, through a medium!
Of course all put together the accounts have contradictory elements, which makes the vision of what really happened confusing, pointing to the fact that we basically always interpret what we see.

Rashumon / Rashōmon

was published earlier, in 1915.
Rashōmon refers to the
dilapidated southern gate of the then-ruined city of Kyoto, where unclaimed corpses were sometimes dumped.

The story is about the encounter of a servant and an old woman. I won’t tell you what happens between them.
But the point of the story is about what despair and misery can lead you to, when you have to choose between starvation or doing something immoral to survive. How suddenly you can forget your good principles!
I really enjoyed how Ryūnosuke Akutagawa conveyed the inner evolution of the servant found in such a situation.

Both stories can be found online for free. They read quickly and gave me a good feel of the author’s writing.
His characters are rather on the tough side, ready to do anything to survive or defend themselves.
His view of humanity is definitely not optimistic, certainly influenced partly by the period he lived in, by his family relationships, for instance his mentally-ill mother, and his fear of following her path, which he indeed eventually did.

VERDICT: Two short stories by the Japanese master in the genre. Fascinating portraits of the dark side of humans.





11 thoughts on “Book review: two short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

  1. Pingback: 2015 Ebook Reading Challenge | Words And Peace

  2. Pingback: Japanese Literature Challenge 2015 | Words And Peace

  3. Pingback: New Author Reading Challenge 2015 | Words And Peace

  4. Pingback: 2015 Books in Translation Reading Challenge | Words And Peace

  5. I have these tales in a wonderful collection called RASHOMON AND 17 OTHER STORIES, which has an introduction by Haruki Murakami. From what I recall my favourite was a short story called Green Onions.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have read both the stories Emma but now don’t remember a thing about the old woman’s meeting with that servant; the other however is still fresh in my memory perhaps thanks to the movie. Why haven’t I read more of the author, I simply cannot understand.


  7. Pingback: Japanese Literature Challenge 16 | Words And Peace

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