Prefiguring the vital modernist voices of the Western literary canon, Akutagawa writes with a trenchant psychological precision that exposes the shifting traditions and ironies of early twentieth-century Japan and reveals his own strained connection to it. These stories are moving glimpses into a cast of characters at odds with the society around them, singular portraits that soar effortlessly toward the universal. "What good is intelligence if you cannot discover a useful melancholy?" Akutagawa once mused. Both piercing intelligence and "useful melancholy" buoy this remarkable collection. Mandarins contains three stories published in English for the first time: "An Evening Conversation," "An Enlightened Husband," and "Winter."
About the Author
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892–1927), the "father of the Japanese short story," produced hundreds of stories over the course of his brief and tortured writing career. Akutagawa’s work is marked by his profound knowledge of classical and contemporary literature from Japan, China, and the West. A strong autobiographical element also runs through much of his fiction. At the age of 35, Akutagawa died from an overdose of barbiturates, leaving behind a groundbreaking corpus of fiction.
Translator: Charles De Wolf is a professor at Keio University. A linguist by background, he has in recent years turned to the study and translation of modern Japanese literature. He has translated numerous stories from Konjaku Monogatari, a twelfth-century folktale collection, including the volume Tales of Days Gone By. His translations have appeared in Japan Airlines’ Skyward magazine. De Wolf is also the author of How to Sound Intelligent in Japanese.
Read an Excerpt
Evening was falling one cloud-covered winter’s day as I boarded a To¯kyo¯-bound train departing from Yokosuka. I found a seat in the corner of a second class coach, sat down, and waited absentmindedly for the whistle. Oddly enough, I was the only passenger in the carriage, which even at that hour was already illuminated. Looking out through the window at the darkening platform, I could see that it too was strangely deserted, with not even well-wishers remaining. There was only a caged puppy, emitting every few moments a lonely whimper.
Excerpted from "Mandarins"
Copyright © 2007 Ryunosuke Akutagawa.
Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
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