First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Mine has been a life of much shame. I can’t even guess myself what it must be to live the life of a human being.
Portraying himself as a failure, the protagonist of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human narrates a seemingly normal life even while he feels himself incapable of understanding human beings. Oba Yozo’s attempts to reconcile himself to the world around him begin in early childhood, continue through high school, where he becomes a “clown” to mask his alienation, and eventually lead to a failed suicide attempt as an adult. Without sentimentality, he records the casual cruelties of life and its fleeting moments of human connection and tenderness.
Semi-autobiographical, No Longer Human is the final completed work of one of Japan’s most important writers, Osamu Dazai (1909-1948). The novel has come to “echo the sentiments of youth” (Hiroshi Ando, The Mainichi Daily News) from post-war Japan to the postmodern society of technology. Still one of the ten bestselling books in Japan, No Longer Human is a powerful exploration of an individual’s alienation from society.
Happy Friday everyone! After five days of toiling at the office, it is finally the weekend! Luckily, today has been declared a national holiday here in the Philippines in observance of Eid al-Fitr. Eid Mubarak to all our Muslim brothers and sister. Anyway, I hope everyone has ended the week on a high note and that everyone ended or is ending the week on a high note. I hope you were all able to accomplish all the targets you set at the start of the week. More importantly, I hope everyone is doing well, in mind, body, and spirit. Things are starting to return to normal but the threat of the pandemic remains fresh on our minds. I hope that the rest of the year will be filled with success, robust health, and good tidings for everyone.
As has become customary in the past three years, I will be capping the workweek with a new First Impression Friday update. After spending the previous two months immersed in the works of British and Irish literature, I decided to pivot to one of my favorite parts of the literary world: Japanese literature. Japanese literature is also my third most-read regional genre, after American and British literature. In terms of translated works, Japanese works rank first. Although the gap between translations and English works is glaring, I have been working to close this gap in the past few years.
I usually host my Japanese literature month during my birth month but I am making an exception this year mainly because of my recent travel to the Land of the Rising Sun. I would usually alternate new-to-me writers with familiar writers but I have resolved to dedicate April, or at least the start of my foray into Japanese literature to writers whose oeuvre I have not explored previously. My journey started rather slow but it didn’t take long for me to gather momentum. In fact, I was able to finish one book a day in the past two days; Emi Yagi’s Diary of a Void yesterday and Genki Kawamura’s If Cats Disappeared from the World earlier today. The possibility of making it three days in a row with Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human. Like the two other books, Dazai’s novel is rather slender.
Osamu Dazai, I have recently learned, is one of the major forces in the Japanese literary scene during the first half of the 20th century, alongside equally formidable names such as Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Natsume Sōseki, and Yukio Mishima. While his works have been translated into English as early as the 1950s, it wasn’t until recently that he has been gaining global recognition, first with The Setting Sun and eventually with No Longer Human. Dazai, who was born Shūji Tsushima, was the father of Yūko Tsushima who made a name for herself as a novelist during the second half of the 20th century.
At the heart of No Longer Human (人間失格, Ningen Shikkaku) was Oba Yozo. The novel, it seems, takes on the form of a journal written by Yozo. I have only gotten past the novel’s first two parts but I was immediately acquainted with the novel’s main protagonist. He was some kind of a jokester, a young guy who was belligerent. For instance, he got low grades at school for things he wrote and yet he didn’t change his ways because he knew his teacher enjoyed writing his funny pieces. However, I can also sense that he had very low self-esteem and he had some feelings of self-foreboding. From what I can glean, he was made fun of because of his appearance.
As I have mentioned, I just started reading the book but knowing that Dazai was a student of the I-novel literary school, I can already feel that the book had autobiographical elements; as if the synopsis was not a dead giveaway anyway. It would be interesting to see – or read – how Dazai captured the image of himself through Yozo. And because this is an I-novel, the plot would be rather thin, not robust at all. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to lose myself in Dazai’s characterization. I know that while Yozo was a sort of a prankster, his story is anything but fun or happy. Donald Keene, the book’s translator, already issued a caveat in the book’s introduction. The book’s title is a further sign of this. So what makes Yozo feel that he is no longer human?
The book is rather slender and Dazai’s writing is immersive. I do expect some heavy-hitting subjects later in the story. With the pace I am reading, I expect to finish the book early tomorrow. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. Again, happy weekend everyone!