Thursday, February 18, 2010

Premature Book Review: No Longer Human

This is a story that many may feel they can relate to, though they may not wish to admit it. I will. In many instances, I feel a kinship with Osamu Dazai's pro/antagonist Yozo from No Longer Human. This book is purported to be autobiographical, though the translator notes that it is still fiction enough to be fiction — after all, every story is based on something.

Yozo is a man who feels he is not part of the human race. He is timid and shy, making up for his deficiencies with clowning. His worst fear is that he will be found out. He despises other people, and is filled with a rage he can never express. When others anger him, he tells you what he wants to say, and then follows with what he actually says, which is invariably obsequious or non-confrontational. He descends into a world of sex and alcoholism, taking advantage of women whom are swayed by his fa├žade.

The story follows along the lines of many post-war Japanese coming of age stories as Yozo battles between what he can be, what society wants him to be, and what he desires. The problem is, like many young people, he has no idea what that desire is. Throughout the book he is a man-child who shuns responsibility and is always living off of someone else's labor. This never makes him happy, though, and he is constantly running away from the women in his life who care for him, both tangibly and emotionally, because they are not what he wants.

As a book, it reads very well. I am a slow-ish reader, and have breezed through it thus far. Yozo is in many ways a character you do not want to sympathize with, but it is plain that his problems are serious. He is not evil or malicious, but troubled and perhaps mentally ill. He wants to be his own man, but as in all societies, being your own man is not something you can do without means. The rich can be eccentric, the poor are just crazy, and crazy doesn't play. There is a nice philosophical aspect to the book. It is neither completely Eastern nor Western in its philosophy. There is mention of Christianity, which I find odd, but the philosophical questions are quite universal. Osamu Dazai was from an affluent family, and had access to Western films and literature so his outlook is quite broad for such a closed society.

Osamu Dazai is a very popular author in Japan. He committed suicide in 1948, and this book is still a top seller. Another popular title available in English is The Setting Sun.

2 comments:

kenchan13 said...

Wow i am going to have to pic this up. This may seem strange but i always felt a strange connection between me and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Not in a "gore and killing people is cool" thing but his neurosis,paranoia,hearing and seeing strange unexplained things and facade of just barely keeping his life together really resonate with me. I was going thru a divorce at the time of reading as well...

Darius Whiteplume said...

I think we all get a bit nuts and feel alienated at times. Yozo seems a bit like a sociopath, and I wondered when he was going to kill someone, but I don't think that is where he is going.

I would perhaps place Osamu Dazai somewhere between Yukio Mishima and Haruki Murakami. There is the sadness expressed by both. It more grounded in reality than Murakami, but perhaps more introspective than Mishima. I am by no means an expert on Mishima's work though.

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