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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



A Fool's Life

by
Akutagawa Ryūnosuke


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Essential Akutagawa



Title: A Fool's Life
Author: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1927 (Eng. 1968)
Length: 51 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: in The Essential Akutagawa - US
in The Essential Akutagawa - UK
in The Essential Akutagawa - Canada
in Le Vie d'un idiot et autres nouvelles - France
  • Japanese title: 或る阿呆の一生
  • Translated by Will Petersen

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine autobiographical vignettes

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 22/12/1988 Ian Buruma

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The complete review's Review:

       A Fool's Life is, like Cogwheels, an autobiographical collection of reminiscences, observations, and ideas about a man on the edge.
       There are fifty-one pieces, ranging from proper anecdotes to incomplete sketches and observations. Again, autobiography is central, with much addressing situations that Akutagawa himself faced -- revealing also how much of this weighed on him. Unlike Cogwheels, A Fool's Life is written in the third person, Akutagawa here taking a more disembodied view of his own life.
       Death-thoughts crop up repeatedly, in numerous variations. He recognises his inner struggle, but is unable to avoid the inevitable:

In front of him was either madness or suicide. In the twilight he walked the street alone, determined, patiently, to wait for his fate, for slowly approaching destruction.
       A friend of his who went insane sees the protagonist possessed by the same "fin de siècle demon", and part of Akutagawa -- stylistically, too -- is certainly informed by that very European demon; it is also the often overheated books of those from that period that he's drawn to. However, part of the appeal of Akutagawa, here especially but also elsewhere in his work, is the Japanese sensibility and tradition he brings to his work. The approach to suicide -- including, despite the turmoil he feels, a very specific calm -- as well as the inevitability of the act do make for a unique text.
       Again, familiarity with Akutagawa's biography is helpful in understanding this collection, but even without it these are disturbingly effective sketches.

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Links:

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke: Other books by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (芥川 龍之介) lived 1892 to 1927.

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© 2005-2009 the complete review

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