Books: Japanese Nihilist

NO LONGER HUMAN (177 pp.)—Osamu Dazai—New Directions ($3.50).

One day in 1948, aged 38, Japanese Novelist Osamu Dazai committed suicide by jumping into Tokyo's Tamagawa Reservoir. It was Dazai's fifth attempt, but he had long courted self-destruction in alcoholism and morphine addiction. The son of a rich landowning family, Novelist Dazai was deeply, perhaps disastrously, Westernized. The title of his first novel, The Setting Sun, provided a tag line ("people of the setting sun") for postwar Japanese disillusionment and class disintegration. Spare, evocative and heavily autobiographical, Dazai's novels are monochromes of despair. Their only affirmation is the fact that the author...

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