Original title: 人間失格 (Ningen Shikkaku)
Author: Osamu Dazai (太宰 治, Dazai Osamu)
Translator: Donald Keene
Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature
“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.”
No Longer Human is considered to be Dazai’s masterpiece, and it’s without a doubt one of the most depressing books that I’ve ever read. Considering the elements that relate to Dazai’s personal life, including suicide, it’s no wonder that people consider this more of an autobiography than a work of fiction.
The story follows the life of Ōba Yōzō, who feels alienated from other people and creates a cheerful facade in order to dispel his true nature. As he grows older his fears increase and prevent him from integrating into society, and he falls to smoking, drinking, drug abuse, and adulterous affairs with women. He reveals on multiple occasions that he wants to die, and considers a violent death a blessing.
During the course of my life I have wished innumerable times that I might meet with a violent death, but I have never once desired to kill anybody. I thought that in killing a dreaded adversary I might actually be bringing him happiness.
Definitely not a cheerful book.
This is a book where the relationship between the reader and the narrator is not definite. Even though I constantly felt sympathetic towards Yōzō’s situation, there were many times where I was frustrated with him as well. I think that was Dazai’s point, to not make him completely likeable, to emphasize how troubled he is. To create a character that is simultaneously likeable and dislikable is an amazing thing.
Overall, what this book highlights is how some people are unable to cope with everyday life, with the trials of “being human.” As a result, they are isolated and lonely beings who go through life as if in a living hell. In that aspect, although we don’t want to face such things as grief, guilt, and fear, if we avoid them we will only suffer more.
This book was dark and depressing, but a quick read, and beautifully written and translated.