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Osamu Dazai: 斜陽 (Japan: The Declining Sun, US: The Setting Sun)

This novel, which perfectly mirrored the Japanese mood immediately after the war, even made a contribution to the Japanese language as its Japanese title – shayo – led to the word shayozoku which means something like impoverished aristocracy. Dazai’s story is about the impoverished aristocracy or, specifically, one family of the impoverished aristocracy. It is narrated by Kazuko, divorced daughter of such a family. Her father is dead and her mother – the last lady in Japan – is dying and does indeed die during the course of the book. Her brother, Naoji, is a dope fiend who, at the beginning of the book is still with the army in the South Pacific. He returns during the course of book, to be doted on by his dying mother and to resume his old ways. He loves his sister but she despises him. His finest moment is his death note after his suicide.

However, the two most interesting characters are the novelist Uehara and Kazuko herself. Uehara represents the total nihilism of the post-war era. Despite being, apparently, a good novelist, he gradually turns out increasingly depraved works and lives a comparably depraved lifestyle, abandoning his wife and child for wine, women and song. He is Naoji’s dealer and enabler. He is also the man Kazuko decides should be the father of her child, when she realises that having a child is the only thing that will snap her out of her lethargy. For much of the book is Kazuko’s story, who, for the most part, observes and reacts but rarely initiates. When they have to move (for financial reasons), she goes along with the plan but is not much involved in the decision. She watches and admires her mother, as one might watch and admire a fragile, beautiful work of art. And, even at the end, now a mother, she is merely a victim with the strong implication that she will kill herself. The sun finally sets.

Publishing history

First published by Shinchosha in 1947
First English translation in 1956 by New Directions
Translated by Donald Keene