The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

The Setting Sun

The post-war period in Japan was one of immense social change as Japanese society adjusted to the shock of defeat and to the occupation of Japan by American forces and their allies. Osamu Dazai’s The Setting Sun takes this milieu as its background to tell the story of the decline of a minor aristocratic family.

The story is told through the eyes of Kazuko, the unmarried dau

The story is told through the eyes of Kazuko, the unmarried daughter of a widowed aristocrat. Her search for self meaning in a society devoid of use for her forms the crux of the novel. It is a sad story, and structurally is a novel very much within the confines of the Japanese take on the novel in a way reminiscent of authors such as Nobel Prize winner Yasunori Kawabata – the social interactions are peripheral and understated, nuances must be drawn, and for readers more used to Western novelistic forms this comes across as being rather wishy-washy.

Kazuko’s mother falls ill, and due to their financial circumstances they are forced to take a cottage in the countryside. Her brother, who became addicted to opium during the war is missing. When he returns, Kazuko attempts to form a liaison with the novelist Uehara. This romantic displacement only furthers to deepen her alienation from society.
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    Gaurav

    The Setting Sun
    Osamu Dazai

    What is it with Japanese literature, I always feel a sense of awe whenever I plunge myself into artistic universe of the country of rising sun and Osamu Dazai does no harm to the reputation of it. I find that plot development and action have often been of secondary interest to emotional issues and most of the modern Japanese authors stressed upon consciousness of narrators and perhaps that why it has resonated so well with me. Though I’ve started to read Japanese litera

    What is it with Japanese literature, I always feel a sense of awe whenever I plunge myself into artistic universe of the country of rising sun and Osamu Dazai does no harm to the reputation of it. I find that plot development and action have often been of secondary interest to emotional issues and most of the modern Japanese authors stressed upon consciousness of narrators and perhaps that why it has resonated so well with me. Though I’ve started to read Japanese literature last year only (so couldn’t really claim myself to be master of it :P) however I find most of the modern Japanese authors- whether it is Kwabata, Abe, Mishima or Dazai for that matter- have been able to portray problems or rather ironies of human existence and so effortlessly put forth the condition of human consciousness on the canvas of art that it’s only second (to me) to modern Russian literature. You may well find traits of nihilism, existentialism well evident in the works of probably all great modern Japanese authors. I guess perhaps world war, fate of Japan in it played major role in the way modern Japanese literature has come out; for people there might have felt disaffection, utter loss of purpose and the difficulty in coping up with defeat in the World War II might have also played major role in it. Besides, Japanese society has been strongly influenced by western culture, wherein it left its aristocratic roots to rapidly developed into industrialized society; the sense of alienation in urban life, crisis of purpose must have also played a great role the way the modern literature of the country has panned out.

    Coming back to The Setting Sun after this (unintentional) carefree preamble, well it is set in modern Japan after World War II, the book revolves around a family which struggles to cope up with crisis of daily life after the War as most of the Japanese families struggled during this stretch when the society was in transition from traditional to a modern one- city dweller, industrialized one. The sudden change in the social architecture of the country after World War II brought fundamental changes in the society as a whole while most people found difficult to get along with as these rapid changes did not provide them enough time to get adapt to it. But perhaps, those difficulties brought up great Japanese works in literature as we know that irony generally brings out beauty. The face of Japan changed at a very fast pace as per rules of economics and convenience- as it mother of all changes. However, below this rapid change, the moral and spiritual life of the country also went similar but gradual changes- as habits always take time to change. In the modern Japan, the family structure gradually lost its value, the long cherished traditions of the country also went under slow death. The Setting Sun is one of such stories about a family consists of three main characters, namely Kazuko- the protagonist, her mother and her brother, Naoji through whom the author brings up a number of social and philosophical problems of that time period. It’s through the sad eyes of Kazuko that Dazai takes the reader through a tragic yet beautiful (of course, filled with a tinge of heart-wrenching pain) sojourn of post–war tragedy wherein you could witness (with distressing pity) the pillars of aristocratic tradition being rooted up by turbulence brought up by need of the hour; Dazai narrates the suffering of Kazuko and her family through those times, the suffering which underlines destitute existence of the Japanese society during post war era.

    The book talks about eminent struggle of the protagonist- Kazuko- to come in terms with the rapid changing world wherein she’s not sure about her inclination whether it’s about the aristocratic heritage or the new uprising world which is derived by convenience and desires. Eventually, she battles herself to survive along a fine thread lingering between the customary world and a developing modern sphere of humanity. The nihilistic traits of grief, sadness, bleakness, suicide, absurdism and despair of life are as evident as water in a vessel of glass and I found that these traits in other major works of Dazai too – No Longer Human and Schoolgirl. In fact, it could said be authority that post-war philosophy and literature is highly inspired form these abovementioned traits- whether it may be existentialism of Sartre, absurdism of Camus or any other modern and post-modern movement of literature. The harrowing experiences of World Wars certainly contribute to sudden rise in popularity and development of these schools of thoughts in post- war times. All these art/ philosophical movements works on similar themes that existence somewhat lingers upon absurd situation of life and one has to accept this state of absurdness, and in fact that very realization is the onset of true of existence wherein one has to take responsibility of one’s life.

    There are some very vivid pieces throughout the book which are so tragic that they render heart-wrenching affliction that you actually feel the agony of characters and in fact feel like crying with them; I’ve not come across such deplorable reading experiences for quite some time. There is one scene where Kazuko has been given job to look after lumber pile, the officer, who allocates her the job, provides her a book which could read if she may feel bored. After end of day, she runs up to him and hands over the book; she wants to extend her gratitude to him but somehow words fail to come out from her mouth. In this distressing silence she looks at his face, and when their eyes met, tears flown down in the eyes of both. It may across as a quite simple episode to a naïve reader but an active reader would only able to understand that so powerful it is that you actually feels a deep connect with the protagonist and feels like crying with her, such is the influence of mesmerizing prose of Dazai that it brings out emotions to life. The books present contrasting choices made by the characters, the choices which represent altogether different philosophical treatments; we have Naoji who could not able to sustain ravages of life in post-war era on one hand and finds comfort in the clutches of death while Kazuko keeps on lingering with courage and bravely fights out traditional society on the desire to live rather than succumbing to the teasing embrace of death; to live at any cost, perhaps that’s the most humane instinct. There are several incidents like episode the burning of eggs of snakes and fire outbreak where you can associate with self- pity and guilt felt by the protagonist; guilt and sense of pity which may strip oneself from all veils one may have developed to comfort oneself against the chilly reality of life and existence of oneself may stand naked without false sense of comfort, and which may be quite nippy realization.

    When mother discovered that I had burned the snake eggs, she certainly must have felt that there was something ill-omened in the act. This realization brought home to me the feeling that I had done a terrible thing in burning the eggs.

    I was aghast at the sudden realization of what had caused the fire. It was only then that it occurred to me that the disaster had taken place because the previous night, after I removed the unburned sticks of firewood from the furnace, I had left them next to the woodpile, thinking that they were already out. This discovery made me want to burst into tears.

    Though it is quite obvious that there is a connection between author’s life and the book- in fact in any of his works for that matter, however it would be immature of a reader to confine the book as an autobiographical account of Dazai. The Setting Sun may quite confidently said to be one of his more objective works, and yet you may come across the derivatives from Dazai’s own personality- much in Naoji, in the novelist Uehera, his mentor, and even in Kazuko, the narrator of the story. One of the distinguishing factors of the books, which I feel separates it from other works of Dazai (including No Longer Human too which otherwise is a great achievement in modern Japanese literature), is strong character of Kazuko who keeps on struggling to live rather than accept death as her fate. Another facet of the prose of Dazai is that, which is not known to many, he puts last remark in the conversation first and then goes back to the steps leading to it; it may come across as a technique similar to stream of consciousness of modernism but I would say it’s more close to flashback technique, as also mentioned by translator of the book. Another jewel in the feather of Dazai is that he was able to use small incidents such as burning of snake eggs to convey large meanings which again come across as similar to minimalist approach of post-modernism but it has got it roots in Japanese poetry wherein each word is supposed to be vital part of whole. The book, by the depth of its understanding of the Japanese of today, evokes and reveals aspects of the Japan as nation in whole. It would be ingenuous of a reader to consider The Setting Sun as a sociological document rather it is a powerful and beautiful novel by one of the greatest Japanese authors of modern times.

    To me, it occurs, as one of those books which leave you emotionally exhausted after you finish them, all your feelings get drained off our conscience, and you actually feel nothing and become oblivious to the emotions which otherwise might have been surged due to surroundings. In fact, I’ve been so attached with book that even after 3-4 days of finishing it I’m quite struggling to start a new one. Perhaps this verbose outburst may help me in coming to terms with my reading choices 🙂 Overall, it was a marvelous experience, quite vivid and full of human sensibilities which has got power to bring out your most deep rooted emotions, as you expect Dazai (or Japanese authors as a whole) to be, and something peculiar which I’ve experienced a few times.


    4.5/5

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