14 November 07 | Chad W. Post

Over at WWB, Michael Orthofer has a couple new posts in the month-long discussion of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Mandarins.

The first is about the title story, and, well, it’s title:

When I hear (read) Mandarins, especially in an East Asian context, I think: Chinese wise men. Something along those lines, anyway. But the mandarins that give this collection—and the opening story—its title refer to the citrus fruit. Confusing matters further, the Japanese title of the story—Mikan—refers to a fruit that, while mandarin-like, is quite different. Others have apparently translated the title of the story as The Tangerines—not quite accurate either, but at least less ambiguous.

Is it just me, or does this title—and the impression it gives—cause some confusion?

The most recent post is about “An Evening Conversation,” one of the never-before translated stories included in this collection.

Translator De Wolf says in his notes that: “it follows in a long Japanese literary tradition of rambling conversations among males concerning life, love, and art,” and with that title one presumably shouldn’t expect anything different.

It is a curious approach to story-telling Akutagawa takes here, in An Evening Conversation: not quite story-in-a-story (i.e. someone simply recounting a tale, the telling of the tale little more than a framing device), but also not quite just table-talk.

This is one of the best WWB book clubs to date. Orthofer is very complete in his readings, and great at generating conversation. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

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