Original Title: 蜜柑 (Mikan)
Author: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke)
Translator: Charles De Wolf
Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature
He could not help despising himself, even as he was equally compelled to think that when we peel back the skin we are indeed all the same.
Stories in this book:
- At the Seashore
- An Evening Conversation
- The Handkerchief
- An Enlightened Husband
- Kesa and Moritō
- The Death of a Disciple
- O’er a Withered Moor
- The Garden
- The Life of a Fool
- The Villa of the Black Crane
I’ve read enough of Akutagawa’s work that I feel like there’s very little left for me to say. A writer’s work speaks for the writer, and Akutagawa’s voice is loud and clear.
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa despised humanity – but above all, he despised himself.
Why have you too come into this world so full of vain desire and suffering? And why is this your burden of fate: to have the likes of me as a father?
Mandarins contains stories that I’ve read before under a different translator, such as The Life of a Fool (also known as The Life of a Stupid Man), Mandarins, and Cogwheels (also known as Spinning Gears). Though Akutagawa is well known for the bizarre and the grotesque, as seen in stories such as Hell Screen, Rashōmon, and Kappa, he is also known for his psychological undertones that expose the ugliness of humanity. The stories inside of Mandarins are about the changing times of twentieth-century Japan and the misfits that cannot adapt – such as Akutagawa himself.
The translation is beautiful. The Life of a Fool is one of my all-time favorite short stories, and Charles De Wolf matched, if not exceeded the translation done by Jay Rubin in Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories. I also enjoyed Kesa and Moritō and The Death of a Disciple, though Cogwheels did not improve, unfortunately. It has autobiographical elements such as The Life of a Fool, but the latter is better written and told than the former.
The other stories were good, but I don’t think they stand out as strongly as the others. I think Akutagawa’s strength was irony, or perhaps tragedy – the brutality of human beings that he was so fond of portraying. Many of these shorts felt light in comparison, and perhaps a bit dull. That is why I could not bring myself to give the collection four stars, despite how much I love Akutagawa.