No Longer Human
by Osamu Dasai
Reviewd by Peter Grabas
My life has been one of much shame.
This opening line immediately shows you that this will be no ordinary bit of prose, and riveted me to the story as only profound literature can. Published in 1948 it is the second best selling book in Japan. Although this novel has autobiographical elements of attempted suicide, multiple affairs, drug abuse and intellect, it only enhances this work of fiction and is not a veiled life’s story.
No Longer Human is written in three chapters best described as memorandum, the first being his childhood and illustration of his paranoia(s) and comedic deception. The second his university years and bohemian behavior, despair and double suicide drowning with a woman. He survives but she does not leaving him in profound guilt. In the third memorandum he makes an attempt at normal life and almost succeeds until his bohemian college friend turns up and he once again begins self-destructive behavior that spirals into drug addiction of alcohol and morphine and eventually in put into a mental institution. On leaving it he moves to an isolated house and lives in a haze of detached feeling recalling his life and writing these memorandum which are found and given exposure by an unidentified person who writes the prologue and epilogue. The great pity of this character and the story’s plot is that his persistent trauma of fear, never had to hold him as it does. A great profundity in life is that “you are who you pretend to be” is illustrated in his acceptance by his childhood peers, friends and family, only he cannot make that bridge between his self perception and his outward behavior. But since it is unclear what happens to him we can speculate that his memorandum he wrote may have placed him on a course to salvation by exposing himself. At least I like to think or hope so.
The question I anticipate you asking is “why would I read No Longer Human?” My answer is that it is much like a terrible accident or catastrophe that we see at a safe distance. It is compelling and profound and makes us stronger in appreciation of our strengths and give pardon to our shortcomings and fears. This book is highly recommended for its story, construction, and well crafted verse. It also leaves us a ray of hope in its conclusion. If you wish to read more of the following, review my caveat is that the following can be a spoiler (even though I omit a lot).
The protagonist is Oba Yozo the son of a large very wealthy politically powerful family living outside of Tokyo. In early childhood he was sexually traumatized by a female servant and had distant affection from his family giving some explanation to Yozo’s extreme sense of disassociation, alienation and paranoia, deception, sociopathology (unable to relate to others feelings), savage low esteem and weak will. He is also extremely Intelligent, good looking, affable and comedically talented which he uses to hide these very powerful feelings of inadequacy that drive all his interactions. Yozo touches on all of our commonly shared feelings of alienation and fears and yearning for acceptance but the average person only has them sometimes or if persistently then not all simultaneously. Yet that profound paranoia drives him to self preservation by hiding behind an unbreakable mask of good cheer and comedy. Irony in its most basic form. He is appreciated by his peers, teachers and family as a comic of great wit and is sought by girls for his company of whom he lives in fear of discovery. A facade that is only penetrated once and in horror he makes that observer Takeichi his boyhood friend to monitor him and protect that facade.
Although sought by girls for his company he feigns, as always, good cheer only waiting for retreat since he cannot truly interact. It is in retrospect that he realizes he is attractive to women but can only find comfort in the arms of prostitutes that he is introduced to in his college years by a shallow classmate who uses him to fund their bohemian lifestyle. At this time of behavior resembling debauchery and being disowned by family, he meets a depressed and tired bar girl, Tsuneko, who reflects his despair and suggests a double suicide by leaping of a cliff into the sea. They do but he survives leaving him with a guilt that permeates his being and gives him a public notoriety. As if he didn’t have enough trouble eh?
A central component of this story is his art. Making paintings (self portraits of inhuman qualities) is his ambition, but when he is rescued by a journalist, her name is Shizuko, with whom he almost succeeds in a normal life, he doodles for her daughter and begins to draw manga and becoming popular earning a livelihood. At least until his shallow friend Horiki shows up to blackmail him and the self destruction begins again. Drunk he meets a naive girl Yoshiko and starts another relationship. More drugs and an institution where he recovers and writes the memorandum. A frist step toward human? Lets hope.