Books by Osamu Dazai

Released: Aug. 1, 1993

Uncharacteristically playful mix of stories from the late Japanese writer Dazai that celebrates quirky families and reinterprets old fairy tales. Known more for his dark, self-absorbed autobiographical fiction (Self-Portraits, 1991), Dazai was also an innovative stylist who experimented with narrative techniques that would both move and entertain—an ambition more than realized in these pieces, first published in the late 1930's and early 40's in Japan. The first and last—``On Love and Beauty'' and ``Lanterns of Romance''- -are stories-within-stories about a family with literary pretensions through whose veins ``flowed an uncommon romanticism.'' Wealthy, well-educated, and bored, the members while away their tedium by telling serial stories—with each section reflecting the temperament and interests of the respective narrators. In the first story, the five siblings take the confused and intellectually pompous beginning of the youngest son and turn it into a wry tale of an aging professor's illusions of happiness. The last section is an inventive interpretation of Rapunzel, interrupted by descriptions of the family's reactions and comments, especially those of the grandfather, who, ``plagued by a certain sense of guilt over his unorthodox behavior, had been making a concerted effort to get on the good side of everyone.'' The collection's title story is a reworking of an old Chinese legend in which an unhappily married man is shown true love by a magical crow. Other notables here—``The Chrysanthemum Spirit'' and ``the Mermaid and the Samurai''—are imaginative and gently humorous retellings of old fables in which, respectively, an obsessed gardener finds himself helped by a remarkable family; and death follows when a noble samurai's tale of a malevolent mermaid is not believed. A rare delight—stories in stylish prose that do both entertain and move. Read full book review >
SELF-PORTRAITS by Osamu Dazai
Released: Jan. 15, 1990

This posthumous collection by Japanese writer Dazai—rightly regarded as one of the most original voices of the postwar generation—gives a new twist to the old question of whether life imitates art, or vice versa. Dazai, born in 1909 to a wealthy and distinguished Japanese family, was a writer who made his turbulent life the very stuff of his writing. A one-time member of Japan's then illegal Communist Party, an alcoholic and drug addict, Dazai also tried to commit suicide three times, once with a young woman he'd only recently met, who did die in the attempt. Prosecuted for his role in her death, Dazai married twice, suffered from a severe persecution complex, and finally in 1948—at the height of his popularity but severely ill—jumped into a river with his neurotic and death-obsessed mistress and drowned. Arranged in chronological order, these lightly fictionalized self-portraits give an account of a life harrowing in its events and fears but relieved by Dazai's wry wit and singular voice. Never sentimental or dishonest, Dazai is always frank about his often despicable behavior as lie recounts the death of his brother, the failure of his first marriage, the suicide pact with a woman he barely knew, his shameful treatment of his family, his fears for his children during the war, and his yearning to succeed as a writer. Together the portraits make a life, but one transmuted by the writer's talent into something more universal than the narrow and personal constraints of the usual autobiography. A moving example of a writer beset with torments and fears, many of his own making, struggling to create something of value. Read full book review >