A Shameful Life: (Ningen Shikkaku), Osamu Dazai, Mark Gibeau (trans) (Stone Bridge Press, November 2018)
A Shameful Life: (Ningen Shikkaku), Osamu Dazai, Mark Gibeau (trans) (Stone Bridge Press, November 2018)

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.

Reviewing a book that has been banned in its author’s native country presents certain challenges as well as certain obligations as in the case of celebrated Chinese novelist Yan Lianke’s The Day the Sun Died, his latest book to appear in English translation (the Chinese original was published in 2015). In his translator’s introduction, Carlos Rojas sees in Joyce’s Ulysses a literary antecedent to Yan’s novel based on their contested reception histories, shared thematic content, and similar narrative strategies.

That Convenience Store Woman is a delight to read probably goes without saying: it reached bestseller status in Japan and now is selling very well in English translation. The short novel by Sayaka Murata (an author and part time convenience store worker) is about thirty-six-year-old Keiko Furukura, who has worked half of her life in a branch of Smile Mart, a Tokyo convenience store. Working there she has found a kind of peace in the orderly store procedures and customer interaction dictates.