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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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review 2015-10-13 00:00
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter - Anonymous,Donald Keene,Yasunari Kawabata description

يا سلام يا سلام :)
أجمل شيء في هذه القصة هي أنها ذكرتني بمسلسل كان ياما كان السوري القديم.


القصة جميلة.
تنفع أن تكون قصة ما قبل النوم للأطفال ..
وللكبار أيضاً!

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review 2014-07-14 18:56
Five Modern Nō Plays by Yukio Mishima
Five Modern No Plays - Yukio Mishima,Donald Keene

Nō for Dummies

First off, let me say that I started reading these plays nō-ing nothing about Kabuki or Nō theater, just that I have always admired Japanese dramatic arts even though I couldn't much understand it. It is like listening to Shakespeare for the first time, in high frequency.
A little research ( ok, very sparse research ) went a long way to assimilate to the subtle nuances of this medieval art form.

Nō, literally translated as "skill or ability" - the lyrical, traditional Japanese style of theater drama - draws its distinctive structure from ancient ritual and folk dances. It is essentially a poetic, quasi-religious, musical drama - without the dramatic conflict. Nō possesses inherently a remoteness from the reality of life, indirectness and abstract analogy, a composite of ancient myths and legends. Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443) created the canonical framework of Nō out of contemporary but disparate customs, drawing on a precise knowledge of Japanese aesthetics, of long-established poetics and Buddhist teachings. The characters in Nō are closely linked to the concept of human nature, stemming from the religious principles of Zen Buddhism, representing mystical and spiritual perceptions.

Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) novelist, poet, dramatist, film director, army officer, is lauded as the first successful author of modern Nō plays. His intentions were to transform the centuries-old Japanese aesthetic form - which embody ambiguity, simplicity, vague language and deep-rooted Buddhist doctrine - into more of an intellectual and intelligible scheme, while still preserving the sensitivity and symbolism of the ancient form of Nō. He helped bring a stylistically 14th century art form into the 20th century.

Contrasting the old and new in his modern Nō, Mishima keeps the same titles and basic plots of the older plays, but uses contemporary speech, natural body language and stage settings. While in Zeami's Nō: feelings of passion are evoked in the observer, Mishima elicits intellectual response. While traditional Nō might stimulate a spiritual sense with overtones of lightness and life, Mishima generates anxiety with components of death.


As a result, these five plays have morphed into concrete versions of their abstract past selves, still representing the essence, the symbolic quality and suggestive elements of the originals* even in their crude modern settings; they are comprehensible and accessible to the otherwise ill-exposed Nō audience. Mishima's recreations stir-up excitement and tension, are metered in pace, tone, temper, and atmosphere. The narrative is tight, controlled, concentrated, not one word lies in waste.

The Plays:

Sotoba Komachi- set in a public park on a bench, a poet and a hag talk about the beauty she once was, and in so doing, he is 'bewitched' in viewing her as the archetypal woman who dominates the male psyche.

The Damask Drum- the old janitor of a building declares his love for a woman in the adjacent office, is given a message to beat the damask drum to win her love, only to be laughed at. In humiliation, he commits suicide. A supernatural design unfolds.

Kantan- a traveler naps on a magic pillow and dreams of a glorious life as Emperor of China. He awakens unable to distinguish dream from reality.


The Lady Aoi - a version of the tale of Genji love triangle takes place in a hospital setting. The gothic good vs evil is reminiscent of a Japanese horror flick - as a fan of such, this was my favorite!

Hanjo- about a teahouse geisha who exchanges fans with a gentleman as a promise of marriage, only to suffer madness by his abandonment of her. This story involves homosexual love and the only one that ends happily.

For the poorly diverse, opportunity-deprived but eager spectator of Japanese theater like myself, Mishima has provided coherent interpretation and exciting entertainment in these dramas, infusing his own flair for the dark and macabre, conjuring up a mysterious, mesmerizing, evocative, at times gothic world in which I enthusiastically enjoyed being immersed.

"Most encouraging of all, perhaps, is the fact that an outstanding young writer has devoted himself to this traditional dramatic art, and in so doing has created works of unusual and haunting beauty." - Donald Keene (translator)


*The original plays in old speech translated in English can be found here:
The Nō Plays of Japan by Arthur Waley (Grove Press, New York, 1953)
Anthology of Japanese Literature by Donald Keene (Grove Press, New York, 1955)

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review 2014-03-25 22:31
5 Modern Japanese Novelists , by Donald Keene
Five Modern Japanese Novelists - Donald Keene

In 5 Modern Japanese Novelists (2003)  Donald Keene (b. 1922) discusses some of the many Japanese authors with whom he had friendly relations: Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Kawabata Yasunari, Mishima Yukio, Abe Kobo, and Shiba Ryotaro. Though there is distinct overlap in this book with the more formal and extensive discussion of the life and work of the first three in his invaluable Dawn to the West




there he did not treat the work of Abe and Shiba at all. Moreover, in this book Keene's tone and treatment are rather informal, and the book is strewn with distinctly personal anecdotes. As he writes, "I hope that this book will be read by persons who might be daunted by the bulk of my [ Dawn to the West ]." My advice: read this book to whet your appetite, and then start reading his 4 volume history of Japanese literature at your own pace and in any order you like. There won't be a quiz afterwards.


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review 2014-01-08 04:11
The Treasury of Loyal Retainers (1748)
Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers): A Puppet Play - Takeda Izumo,Miyoshi Shōraku,Namiki Senryū,Donald Keene

Kanadehon Chūshingura is a play written for the Bunraku theater in 1748 by Izumo Takeda, Shoraku Miyoshi and Senryu Namiki. According to Donald Keene, "The most famous and popular work in the entire Japanese theatrical repertory is, beyond any doubt, Chūshingura." The play is based upon events some 50 years earlier in which a young Japanese lord wounded a representative of the Shogun (probably because he felt insulted by him) and was commanded by the Shogun to commit seppuku, which he did. The Shogun then went further, confiscating the lord's properties and casting out all his family and retainers. The now masterless samurai (ronin) of the late lord Asano revenged his death a few years later by attacking the flunkey's mansion, killing him and placing his severed head upon Asano's gravesite. After deliberating for some time and calling in the advice of leading philosophers (!), the Shogun commanded that the 46 ronin commit seppuku in their turn. Which, of course, they did. Not two weeks later the first play based on the incident was performed and promptly shut down by the authorities. 

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