cover image Kappa


Ryunosuke Akutagawa, trans. from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell and Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda. New Directions, $13.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3216-6

Powell and Hofmann-Kuroda offer a crisp translation of this strange, densely literary 1927 fantasy novella from Akutagawa (1892–1927), presented as the account of Psychiatric Patient No. 23. The patient tells an unknown author and a hospital director of his Alice in Wonderland–esque fall down a rabbit hole to Kappa Land, where Kappas—amphibious, thick-billed, webbed-hand and -footed three-foot-tall creatures from Japanese mythology—live in a city that looks “exactly like Ginza-dori, one of the main boulevards in Tokyo.” The new translation is modern, matter-of-fact, and readable, with a plot reminiscent of Edwin Abbot Abbot’s satire Flatland in its use of fantastical elements to skewer society, its very short chapters centered on different aspects of an invented culture, and its dated misogyny. There are no named female characters, and all the female Kappas are depicted as either jealous cheaters or knitting nonentities. It’s difficult to determine if this depiction of women should be read as sincere or as poking fun at the social views of the Taishō era. Still, for Japanophiles and SFF readers interested in investigating the canon of world literature, this is a thought-provoking way to spend an afternoon. (June)