April 29, 2007
Some things are worse than dying. Akutagawa Ryunosuke evidently thought so. Consumed by the fear he would lose his mind, as his mother Fuku Shinbara had when he was a child, he checked out of life with an overdose of veronal sleeping tablets. The redeeming thing, if there is one, is that while he was alive Ryunosuke burned his chilling fables indelibly onto Japanese literature and the nation’s psyche. Translated by Jay Rubin, Penguin Modern Classic’s Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories is a superior introduction to a fascinating character, one whose work was as fleeting and mesmeric as his life. Darran Anderson reviews Rashomon.