Email this review


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.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1990
Publisher: Kodansha--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux