A Shameful Life
A new translation of one of the greatest works of postwar Japanese literature, acutely capturing modern anxiety and alienation.
Osamu Dazai is one of the most famous—and infamous—writers of 20th-century Japan. A Shameful Life (Ningen Shikkaku) is his final published work and has become a bestselling classic for its depiction of the tortured struggle of a young man to survive in a world that he cannot comprehend.
Paralleling the life and death of Dazai himself, the delicate weaving of fact and fiction remorselessly documents via journals the life of Yozo, a university student who spends his time in increasing isolation and debauchery. His doomed love affairs, suicide attempts, and constant fear of revealing his true self haunt the pages of the book and reveal a slow descent into madness. This dark tale nevertheless conveys something authentic about the human heart and its inability to find its true bearing.
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Recipient of the William F. Sibley Memorial Subvention Award for Japanese Translation
"Dazai is the ultimate bad boy of Japanese literature and Ningen Shikkaku is his supreme masterpiece, a novel that still shocks today with its brutal honesty and unflinching, strangely thrilling pessimism. Nothing remotely like it had been seen in Japanese literature before."
"A refreshing and interesting reconstruction of this Japanese classic... 70 years on, Gibeau’s translation shows that this captivating novel is still as relevant and powerful as it was on the day of its initial release."
“Powerful… a fascinating psychological portrait, of someone trying (or rather, constantly failing) to come to terms with a self they find unbearable.”
"An all-new translation of Osamu Dazai's bleak masterwork brings fresh clarity and immediacy to a staple of modern Japanese literature."
"Oba Yozo, the central character and anti-hero of Dazai Osamu’s Ningen Shikkaku, is as familiar to Japanese readers as Holden Caulfield is to English readers. The Catcher in the Rye still sells a million copies per year... Catcher, however, pales beside Ningen as a literary achievement."
"Dazai's novel is unrelentingly bleak.... but the joylessness here is unique, yet still strangely readable. It's a grim portrait of post-war ennui and failure of nerve."
—The Pacific Rim Review of Books
"5/5 Osamu Dazai is one of the giants of 20th-century Japanese literature. He became even more of a cult-like figure when he committed suicide with his supposed lover in 1948. What we get is his last, and most autobiographical, work. One in which you ask yourself whether you are really reading a piece of fiction or something that the author wanted the world to know before he committed suicide."
"Dazai's book is a challenging, important part of Japanese culture."
"Dazai's reputation has not waned a bit in seventy years. Reading Mark Gibeau's brilliant translation will show you why."
—Roger Pulvers, award-winning translator, film director, and author of LIV
"This new translation brings fresh skill and sensitivity to the task of interpreting one of modern Japanese literature’s most endearing classics. It gives us Dazai in all his quirky hilarity and pathos, and deepens our understanding of this complex and brilliant writer."
—Dr. Meredith McKinney, award winning translator of Sei Shônagon's The Pillow Book
"Certain novels evoke such a vivid sense of a character that it almost hurts to reach the end. This nuanced, engaging translation of Dazai Osamu's masterpiece A Shameful Life is just such a work: subtle and complex, it pulls the reader in and refuses to let go. Indeed, Mark Gibeau's helpful afterword left me wanting to turn right back to the first page and dig into the book again. A Shameful Life has that kind of power: it is Dazai at his finest."
—Michael Emmerich, Associate Professor of Japanese Literature at UCLA
"A fluent new translation of a postwar classic by the brilliant and controversial writer Osamu Dazai. Most readers will feel that the life of the protagonist of this semi-autobiographical novel is indeed "shameful," but they will be taken aback by the very different view expressed in its final lines."
—Paul McCarthy, prize-winning translator of works by Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Nakajima Atsushi, and Kanai Mieko