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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Kappa

by
Akutagawa Ryūnosuke


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Kappa



Title: Kappa
Author: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
Genre: Novel
Written: 1927 (Eng. 1970)
Length: 141 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Kappa - US
Kappa - UK
Kappa - Canada
in Rashômon et autres contes - France
in Rashomon - Deutschland
  • Japanese title: 河童
  • Translated by Geoffrey Bownas
  • With an Introduction by G.H.Healey
  • Previously translated by Seiichi Shiojiri (1949)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amusing alternate world

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Kappa is presented as the first-person account of a madman, Patient No. 23, as transcribed by the author (who provides a brief explanatory note). The story the man tells is of winding up in 'Kappaland', a whole different world into which he fell as he chased a Kappa while on a mountain-climbing excursion.
       Kappas are familiar from Japanese folklore, i.e. not Akutagawa's invention, but he imagines them and their world in new detail. The average Kappa is about three feet and weighs twenty to thirty pounds. Their distinctive feature is: "the oval-shaped saucer to be found on top of its head", which hardens with age.
       Akutagawa presents them as having their own civilization, clearly using them to offer a satire and allegory of contemporary Japanese society. Some things, however, differ radically and are wildly invented, such as childbirth, where:

when it comes to the moment just before the child is born, the father -- almost as if he is telephoning -- puts his mouth to the mother's vagina and asks in a loud voice:
     'Is it your desire to be born into this world, or not ? Think seriously about it before you reply.'
       (The one childbirth the narrator attends is terminated with the unborn foetus deciding against joining the world.)
       Society also functions somewhat differently, with, for example, an unusual method of dealing with workers who become superfluous:
we slaughter any worker who loses his job, and we use his flesh as meat
       The narrator learns Kappanese, makes a number of acquaintances (philosophers, artists, capitalists, and others), and generally gets on fairly well in odd Kappaland. Ultimately, he returns to Japan, but misses the Kappas more than he expected.
       Akutagawa's genial approach and wild imagination make for an amusing text. Loosely structured, he seems to revel more in his inventions than be trying to present a carefully constructed allegory or satire. It's good (often fabulous) fun, but not much more.

       G.H.Healey's introduction takes up a sizable portion of the book. More focussed on the author than the book, it a useful quick introduction to Akutagawa.

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Links:

Kappa: Reviews: Akutagawa Ryunosuke: 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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