Wednesday, 24 October 2012

In a Grove, by R. Akutagawa

Quality, not quantity:  this applies to so many aspects of our lives, just as it does here:  the quality of a work of literature is not necessarily found in its length.  There are several excellent samples of short stories that manage to capture my attention much more than some of their lengthy counterparts... Such is the case of In a Grove by R. Akutagawa, a seemingly straight-forward account of a murder that unfolds into a most complex story of what the real truth is...

In a Grove comprises several accounts of a murder that has just been committed, from perfect strangers who happened to be in the vicinity, to the mother, to the main characters of the tragedy.

I really enjoyed how, from one page to the next, whatever I had gathered from one account would be shattered to pieces by the next.  Yes, it is true that no two witnesses will tell a story the same way, but what I liked about this short story, is the genius of changing just a small tip in the discussion.  Better still, corroborate in the next account and then turn the fact ever so slightly away from the previous version.  

The accounts from the "outsiders" provide some factual information about the travelling couple.  Details change from one testimony to the next, but not to such an extent as to make it unbelievable.  Where I got totally overwhelmed was with the declarations of Takehiro (the murdered victim), Masago (his wife, raped by the murderer) and Tajōmaru (the vicious murderer).  Each of them describes the scene in such a different manner, but still reliable, that I could not in the end be certain of what had actually happened (which can easily be the case in real life as well).  Akutagawa's writing style is so sharp as not to lose the reader's grip for a moment (which is good, because this is a seriously short story).  

What I appreciated were the thoughts that remained with me for the rest of the day.  While reading the story is over in about 3 minutes, the impact is immense:  each of the accounts is more than plausible, so what has really happened?  I could well picture myself writing all possible variations on a blackboard, trying to figure out the exact events that led to the murder... 

For the visual interpretation, I watched "Rashomon" by Akira Kurosawa, a film that won the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, and that introduced Japanese cinema to Western audiences.  Well... I have to admit that it was not a light-hearted film and that it requires patience and determination, but the "poetry" in the film is just magnificent (I love this type of cinema btw)

Read for the Japanese literature challenge 


  1. Three minutes sounds like a really short novella! And yet, the author managed to include three detailed accounts of the same terrible event? I've not heard of In a Grove, but you've made me want to read it!

    1. Well, it's about 10 pages and it's freely available - give it a go!

  2. Akira Kurosawa was my father favorite director (he especially like The Seven Samurai). Is "Rashomon" an adaptation of the book or did you watch it just really to get the right vibe?

    1. it is the adaptation of the book, which surprised me because from a 3' book he made a 1 1/2 hour film...




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