No Longer Human

~written by Osamu Dazai
~translated by Donald Keene

No Longer Human is only the second work by Osamu Dazai that I’ve read, the first being The Setting Sun. The Setting Sun  was also the first of Dazai’s works to be translated into English. In 1958, No Longer Human became the second. New Directions then later republished Donald Keene’s translation in a paperback edition in 1973. The novel was in the middle of serialization in Japan in 1948 at the time of Dazai’s death. Along with The Setting Sun, No Longer Human is one of Dazai’s most well known novels. It also remains one of the top bestselling books in Japan to this day. The story has received several adaptations, including a manga adaptation by Usamaru Furuya to be published in English by Vertical in 2011. I have been meaning to read No Longer Human for some time now. Since it played such an important role in Mizuki Nomura's Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime, which I recently read and enjoyed, I figured it was about time I got around to it.

To all appearances, Oba Yozo is a normal young man. The youngest son of a respectable family, leading a good life, and well liked by others, very few people would guess at his personal turmoil. He feels completely alienated from human society and finds it difficult to understand what exactly it is that is required of him. To cope, he becomes the class clown, hoping that if he can keep people amused and distracted they won’t notice his failings as a human. He is absolutely terrified that he will be revealed as a fraud. Because of this, he finds himself easily taken advantage of and subject to other people’s influence and desires for better and for worse.

No Longer Human spoke to me on a very personal level and considering how well received the novel is I’m assuming I’m not the only one. I identified very closely with the protagonist and his worldview, although admittedly we have dealt with our issues in drastically different ways. It is this potential for empathy that makes No Longer Human so compelling. There are very few people in this world who haven’t felt some sort of disconnect between themselves and the rest of society at one point or another. Dazai captures this feeling of alienation honestly and completely in No Longer Human. The novel almost reads like a confession. In some ways, while being very personal, Yozo’s struggles are also incredibly universal.

As with many of Dazai’s other works, No Longer Human incorporates many semi-autobiographical elements, lending to the novel’s sense of authenticity and immediacy. The story is tragic and probably not something you would want to read if you’re already feeling down or depressed. Yozo is arguably an unreliable narrator, certainly other characters don’t entirely believe him and assume much of his story is exaggerated, but I am convinced he is being truthful. In fact, the others disbelief helps to emphasize his feeling of separation from those around him. The structure of the novel is interesting in that Yozo’s narrative is bookended by a prologue and epilogue by another, unnamed character who provides a supposedly objective view of the events described. No Longer Human is not a particularly long novel but it is still a potent story. I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself returning to read it again.

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