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review 2017-06-10 18:44
No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, translated by Donald Keene
No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai,Donald Keene

I’ll start this off with some content warnings. This book includes several suicide attempts (one successful), a main (POV) character who becomes an alcoholic and a drug addict and who is probably depressed, and several mentions of rape and child molestation. Most of these things aren’t described in much detail, but they’re there.

Almost all of this book is written as though it was the notebook of a man named Oba Yozo (I’m pretty sure that’s the original name order, with family name first, although I could be wrong). Yozo writes about his life from his early childhood days to what I’m assuming is near the end of his life. The book ends and begins with a chapter written from the perspective of someone who did not personally know Yozo but read his notebooks and met someone who did know him.

When Yozo was a very young child, he became convinced that he did not qualify as human. The thought that someone else might realize he wasn’t human so terrified him that he began to behave like a clown. If others were laughing at his antics and jokes, then they weren’t looking at him too closely. Unfortunately for him, he occasionally met individuals who seemed able to see beneath his clownish mask. Beginning in his college years, he was also taken aback by how attractive women seemed to find him.

Yozo seemed incapable of empathizing with others and could only view their words and actions in terms of how they directly related to him. This was especially driven home by the last few pages of the book, written from the perspective of a man who didn’t know Yozo. For the first time since the book began, a POV character was writing about people who weren’t Yozo as though they had thoughts and feelings of their own, and about the wider world and what was going on in it. It was like a breath of fresh air and really emphasized how isolated Yozo had been, even though he spoke to and interacted with more people in his portion of the book than the man at the end.

The beginning of the book worked best for me. Yozo was essentially trapped by his fears, worried about how others perceived him and what they might have been able to see in him. Because he couldn’t understand the thoughts and behaviors of those around him, he doubted the correctness of his own opinions and feelings - after all, if everyone else was human and he was not, who was he to contradict what others said or did? This was especially tragic when it led to him not telling anyone that one of the servants (or several) had molested him. Or at least I think that’s what happened - the author/translator was very vague, saying that he had been “corrupted” and that “to perpetrate such a thing on a small child is the ugliest, vilest, cruelest crime a human being can commit” (35).

Things started to fall apart during Yozo’s college years. Yozo’s father wanted him to become a civil servant, while Yozo wanted to study art. This devolved into Yozo skipping classes, drinking, hiring prostitutes, hanging out with Marxists, and occasionally working on his art. My patience with Yozo pretty much ran out, and it didn’t help that the book developed a very clear misogynistic thread. An example of one of this section's more off-putting quotes: at one point, Yozo said “I never could think of prostitutes as human or even as women” (63). Women, in particular, seemed drawn to his self-destructive orbit, and the result was misery for everyone involved.

Yozo continued his habit of believing others’ assessment of him. Sometimes this had a positive effect on Yozo, such as his brief period of contentment with his wife, a girl (really a girl - she was only 17 when he married her) who genuinely believed that he was a good person and that he would never lie to her. However, since Yozo seemed to gravitate towards people who looked down on him, his habit of accepting and believing whatever people said about him usually drew him further into his downward spiral. I’d say it was depressing, except Yozo was generally so detached from everything that the word seems too strong to be appropriate.

There’s a manga adaptation of this that I might read, just to get a different interpretation of the story. That said, I suspect the manga won’t work for me much more than this did. No Longer Human was well-written, but not my sort of book at all.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2017-06-10 16:29
Reading progress update: I've read 170 out of 177 pages.
No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai,Donald Keene

"This year I am twenty-seven. My hair has become much greyer. Most people would take me for over forty."

 

If you had asked me, a page or two ago, how old the main character was by now, I'd probably have said 50.

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text 2017-06-03 19:38
Reading progress update: I've read 80 out of 177 pages.
No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai,Donald Keene

"She rambled on, but I have never been able to get interested when women talk about themselves. It may be because women are so inept at telling a story (that is, because they place the emphasis in the wrong places), or for some other reason. In any case, I have always turned them a deaf ear."

 

One of the reasons why I hate this guy's college years is because that's when his misogyny became more evident. The portion with his childhood years had a little of it, but it's rampant here. Another example (with a bit more than just misogyny going on):

 

"I never could think of prostitutes as human beings or even as women. They seemed more like imbeciles or lunatics. But in their arms I felt absolute security. I could sleep soundly. It was pathetic how utterly devoid of greed they really were. And perhaps because they felt for me something like an affinity for their kind, these prostitutes always showed me a natural friendliness which never became oppressive. Friendliness with no ulterior motive, friendliness stripped of high-pressure salesmanship, for someone who might never come again. Some nights I saw these imbecile, lunatic prostitutes with the halo of Mary." (63)

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text 2017-06-03 17:05
Reading progress update: I've read 78 out of 177 pages.
No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai,Donald Keene

The main character's childhood years have so far been my favorite part of this book - not in the sense that they were enjoyable, but because I could understand a little of what he was going through and feel some sympathy for him, even though I'm still not entirely sure what prompted him to become convinced that he did not qualify as human. Now I'm to the part covering his college years, however, and if I roll my eyes any harder they will come out of their sockets. I wish I could enter the book and tell the three women currently interested in him that they'd be better off gravitating towards someone else.

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text 2017-06-01 14:20
Reading progress update: I've read 32 out of 177 pages.
No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai,Donald Keene

This is due on the 11th, so I can no longer wait for a Booklikesopoly roll that will let me read it and have it count. Oh well.

 

I may change my mind on this later, but so far this is making for interesting reading from the perspective of a still mostly closeted asexual person. I probably won't be bringing that up in my eventual review, but I may go into it more in status updates.

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