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Osamu Dazai: 人間失格 (No Longer Human; later: A Shameful Story)

In a key statement, Yozo, the hero of this novel, states I feel as though I have been a social outcast from the moment I was born. He reminded me of many other twentieth century literary heroes – CamusOutsider or Ellison‘s Invisible Man and can certainly stand beside these and others, even though it is clear that this book is at least in part autobiographical. Though, like his creator, he comes from a well-to-do family – his father is a member of the Japanese Diet (parliament) – he feels different from them. He cannot understand their hypocrisy but he also cannot understand more mundane things, like their need to eat when they do. He soon discovers, like other outsiders, a way to survival – by being a clown. This works for a while, till he is unmasked by another, more miserable outsider. Once away from home – he goes to school in Tokyo – he gradually loses control of his life. He drinks, under the influence of a friend and takes up drawing (but not very successfully, struggling to make a living doing the artwork for cheap, third-rate comics). He has a series of girlfriends but is only close to one whom, like Dazai, he tries to kill himself with but only succeeds in having her kill herself, while he survives.

From then on he loses further control of his life. He drinks heavily and then turns to drugs, helped only by a series of poor girlfriends and a family friend who occasionally helps him out. His father disowns him and then, unbeknown to him, dies. His brothers help him out but only to have him consigned to a mental hospital where he is, in his own words, no longer human. What happens after that we never know. Yozo may well be his creator, just as other outsiders reflect their creators but he is a fascinating creation and one who deserves to be better known in the West, comparable to his more famous counterparts.

Publishing history

First published by Shinchosha in 1948
Translated by Donald Keene