Forgotten Classics and Other Lesser Known Books (or No One Has Read this but Me!) discussion

The Setting Sun
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2018 Forgotten Books Selections > 8/18 The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai

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Carol (carolfromnc) This is our discussion thread for our August group selection, Osamu Dazai's The Setting Sun.

The Setting Sun (New Directions Book) by Osamu Dazai
The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai
দ্যা সেটিং সান by Osamu Dazai
The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai

I was not the nominator of this novel, but I'm quite excited for us to read it. It's only 130 - 175 pages (at the outside), depending on the version you read, and well worth the time invested in this post-war gem, first published in 1947. If you don't have your copy yet and want to join the discussion, there are plenty of inexpensive used paperbacks available online from various sources.

Dazai is second only to Mishima for his importance in Japan as a 20th century novelist. He also committed suicide at a young age.

Here is a 2014 review of The Setting Sun from the Japan Times, from which I excised a potential spoiler:

Career nihilist Osamu Dazai had already attempted suicide four times when he published his most famous novel in 1947. “The Setting Sun” quickly became a byword for the decline of Japan’s aristocracy in the wake of World War II, but its portrait of a country adrift from its spiritual moorings would resonate with a far wider audience.

The book’s narrator, Kazuko, is the 29-year-old daughter of a once-rich family whose fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. Forced to leave their luxurious Tokyo home, she and her mother move to a villa on Izu Peninsula. But the fragile harmony of their diminished existence is upset by the return of Kazuko’s brother Naoji, a former opium addict who had been lost in action during the war. ...

Though not as autobiographical as Dazai’s subsequent novel, “No Longer Human,” “The Setting Sun” draws heavily on his experiences. The child of a wealthy landowner, he had tasted the kind of privilege that his protagonists are forced to abandon. He’d also fathered a child with one of his fans, Shizuko Ota, whose diaries provided the basis for the book.

“The Setting Sun” would transform its author into a celebrity, the literary poster child for Japan’s postwar malaise — for a brief moment, at least. Already succumbing to tuberculosis, alcoholism and overwork, Dazai finally succeeded in taking his own life in 1948, just shy of his 39th birthday.


Planning to join? Let us know.


Cordelia (anne21) Yes. I am planning in joining you. But still waiting for my copy to arrive from library.


Carol (carolfromnc) Cordelia wrote: "Yes. I am planning in joining you. But still waiting for my copy to arrive from library."

Godspeed to its delivery service.


carissa I had to buy a copy, so am planning on attempting it with you.


Carol (carolfromnc) carissa wrote: "I had to buy a copy, so am planning on attempting it with you."

You’re a trooper, carissa :).

I’ve been wanting to read Dazai for some time, but since I typically enjoy Japanese Lit from before the war to after, I’ve stalled. This is my chance to get off the fence and finally read him. Yay!


Carol (carolfromnc) I’m on page 50, roughly 30% of the way. I found Donald Keene’s, the translator’s, forward to be exceptional at setting the stage for reading this. He includes no spoilers.

I also haven’t the slightest patience for Kazuko’s mother. She reminds me of a myriad of useless (often Dickensian) British mothers described in novels focused on a family’s the slide from wealth to poverty, and I generally respond with similar disdain. The more Kazuko extols her mother’s beauty and class, the more I resist agreeing.


carissa Carol wrote: "The more Kazuko extols her mother’s beauty and class, the more I resist agreeing.

ha...contrarian!


Carol (carolfromnc) carissa wrote: "Carol wrote: "The more Kazuko extols her mother’s beauty and class, the more I resist agreeing.

ha...contrarian!"


They are forced to move out of a house they’ve lived in for some time and she moons around for several days not packing a single box while her daughter and someone else do all the packing. I wanted to reach into the pages and slap her a la Cher in Moonstruck. It didn’t bother any of the book’s characters, though. Beauty *harumph*


carissa Carol wrote: "They are forced to move out of a house they’ve lived in for some ..."

I have not started it yet, but it sound like she's a bit passive-aggressive...that drives everyone nuts! Your comments make me wanna begin though!


Carol (carolfromnc) carissa wrote: "Carol wrote: "They are forced to move out of a house they’ve lived in for some ..."

I have not started it yet, but it sound like she's a bit passive-aggressive...that drives everyone nuts! Your co..."


Fortunately, the main character is the reasonable, decent daughter. Also it is a fast read. No long descriptive paragraphs, so it moves along at a nice pace.


Carol (carolfromnc) Here is a link to a 2016 essay on Dazai from the Japan Times, which I thought you might find interesting and illuminating. It does not discuss Setting Sun, but focuses on Dazai’s No Longer Human. The two novels share sufficient themes that a friend of mine in the Japan Lit group mentioned in passing that he thinks of NLH and SS as companion novels.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/...


Carol (carolfromnc) And a link to the biography of Dazai posted at the Dazai Museum website:

http://dazai.or.jp/en/knowing/writer....

It is more personal and detailed than others that turn up higher in search results.


Carol (carolfromnc) I finished The Setting Sun and am looking forward to reading everyone’s thoughts on it ...


message 14: by Danada (new) - added it

Danada The amazing people who work in stacks managed to find our copy of The Setting Sun! -- It had gone walkabout. I now have it and hope to start soon! :)


Carol (carolfromnc) Danada wrote: "The amazing people who work in stacks managed to find our copy of The Setting Sun! -- It had gone walkabout. I now have it and hope to start soon! :)"

Three cheers for that team!

There’s really no way to discuss this novel without revealing spoilers, for those who believe in them, so I’d rather chill until others are at least 75% or so done. Most definitely a classic, symbolism and all.


message 16: by Danada (new) - added it

Danada Hip hip hoooraaahhh! :)


message 17: by Danada (new) - added it

Danada Finished!


Carol (carolfromnc) Danada wrote: "Finished!"

Thoughts?


Carol (carolfromnc) Because this one takes me back to undergrad, where understanding the symbolism matters and - without it - I was left with a, "what was that all about?" feeling, here's my favorite blog explanation/analysis:

https://winmacarvajal.wordpress.com/2...

It's got the writing quality and inspiration of Sparknotes, but does the job, nonetheless.


message 20: by Danada (last edited Aug 14, 2018 07:04AM) (new) - added it

Danada I am also trying to process the book. There is soooo much going for such a short story!

(view spoiler)

I'll take a look at that blog post! Thank you for sharing the link.

ETA: wow! yes, sooo much going on! :D


Cordelia (anne21) I'm just starting this book. Noticed that Carol gave it 5 stars so I am looking forward to the read.


Carol (carolfromnc) Cordelia wrote: "I'm just starting this book. Noticed that Carol gave it 5 stars so I am looking forward to the read."

Yes, but note that I am a Japanophile as well as a closeted lover of world Lit Classics. :)


carissa I will get o this shortly...I went cuckoo with the Man Booker...and well, other books...


Carol (carolfromnc) carissa wrote: "I will get o this shortly...I went cuckoo with the Man Booker...and well, other books..."

Story of my life and this short-term contract I took is seriously messing up my reading "plans" such as they are.

I'm looking forward to see your comments, carissa, danada and Cordelia, along with anyone else who's wanting to join.


Cordelia (anne21) Im still halfway through. Got waylaid reading Booker Longlish. Need to finish it. I have enjoyed it so far - but lagged at the chapter on "Letters".

Will get back later.


Carol (carolfromnc) Cordelia wrote: "Im still halfway through. Got waylaid reading Booker Longlish. Need to finish it. I have enjoyed it so far - but lagged at the chapter on "Letters".

Will get back later."


I did, too. In fact, I skipped about eight pages of italics. I lost nothing as far as I could tell.


Cordelia (anne21) Carol wrote: "Cordelia wrote: "Im still halfway through. Got waylaid reading Booker Longlish. Need to finish it. I have enjoyed it so far - but lagged at the chapter on "Letters".

Will get back later."

I did,..."


Cool. Thanks. Will do the same


carissa man...I think I've read this before...it's so familiar.
And, he (or the translator) uses the work high falutin'...it sticks in one's head, ya know?


Carol (carolfromnc) carissa wrote: "man...I think I've read this before...it's so familiar.
And, he (or the translator) uses the work high falutin'...it sticks in one's head, ya know?"


I didn't notice that one, but I did very much like the translation. It .
felt contemporary to me, even though I knew it wasn't. I find I have less tolerance for dated language than I did even ten years ago. That's probably why I also can't spend more than two pages on a fluffy, overwrought, never-ending letter either :)


carissa I finished last night. I can agree that it is a classic and eloquently creates the feelings of the time...a beautiful, haunting read.

I had read it before and I think the author used some of those Americanisms in the Japanese text intentionally. (high falutin')

I read Naoji (sp?) suicide note twice...in fact, I could read only that and "get" the book, I think. Don't you think the "fluffy, overwrought, never-ending letter" was part of Japan that was dying, though? His type of love/adoration a thing of the past, while his sister's "love" was more solid and anarchistic? He and the Mother die kind of peaceful, pointless, normal deaths...while Kazuko (sp?) creates LIFE and goes against all she's been trained to be/do...

I adore that a woman is the future of Japan, as her mother( and her Aristo son) was the past. And, the male dilettante, son of a farmer turned artist rises to fame...

Snakes are associated with the male in Western culture, but with the female in Eastern. That the death Father is attended by multiple snakes was an interesting contrast with the one snake at the front door attending the Mother's death.

Ah, rebirth of the irrational feminine...?

I hear Yoko singing...


message 31: by Danada (last edited Aug 28, 2018 10:26AM) (new) - added it

Danada carissa wrote: "I finished last night. I can agree that it is a classic and eloquently creates the feelings of the time...a beautiful, haunting read.

I had read it before and I think the author used some of those..."


I also thought both Kazuko's and Naoji's letters were very important to the story. Almost, as you say, the key to it.

I could probably read this one a bunch of times and still not get all the things happening in it :)

I am going to put these out again because I"m very curious (and I know things under spoilers can't always be read on mobile devices!):

I was intrigued by the snake growing in Kazukos breast and I think later she said it fed off her mother? What do you make of this?

I wasn't clear -- is the middle aged married woman Naoji was in love with the wife of Mr. Uehara? Because that would be *very* interesting.


carissa I think the snake growing in Kazuko is the new Japan...reborn as the old ways die.
I understood that Naoji was in love with Uehara's wife too. I thought was interesting that the brother/sister each "loved" another that was indifferent to them....and a the couple that they loved had a pretty unhappy situation. It would be tragic in most stories, but in this one it felt more nostalgic on Naoji's part and fierce acceptance of the new reality on Kazuko's...like Kazuko and Uehara are more equipped to live in the new harsher chaotic Japan, whereas Naoji, Uehara's wife and Najoi's mother were too much of the old ways...gentle and accepting of whatever fate decrees. Kazuko and Uehara were kind of blunt beings in comparison.


Carol (carolfromnc) Oh, man. I had no idea how to interpret the snakes and I hadn't arrive at any sort of thoughtful analysis of the two unrequited love relationships. Thanks for these comments, carissa!! You've helped me immensely in getting beyond the surface of Setting Sun - a place I'd been stuck for two-plus weeks.


message 34: by Danada (new) - added it

Danada carissa wrote: "I think the snake growing in Kazuko is the new Japan...reborn as the old ways die.
I understood that Naoji was in love with Uehara's wife too. I thought was interesting that the brother/sister each..."


Oh yes! that makes sense now -- I didn't connect the pieces with what you'd said earlier.
Thank you! ^_^

Naoji, Uehara's wife and Najoi's mother were too much of the old ways...gentle and accepting of whatever fate decrees.
yes, I know the mum was annoying to some, but to me she felt like she was a product of her time, her upbringing, the Japan of her life.... and now that you say, I also recall Uehara's wife -- the scene where Kazuko comes to see Mr. Uehara and finds her there instead, she (Mrs. Uehara) helps replace the strap on her shoe and is so lovely and kind and generous... she had to know or suspect what Kazuko was there for knowing her husband, but still, she was this amazing and wonderful, perfect lady..... Naoji -- he struggled soooo hard. Maybe because he was a man? He did not quietly accept things.

Thank you for all your insight and thoughtfulness -- it helps a great deal in connecting and enlightening so many things ^_^


Cordelia (anne21) Guess what? I have finished it at last.

What a very strange and sad little book. I'm not sure that I really enjoyed it. I did read all the letters in the end. I think that they were important in telling us about the unrequited love affairs. The characters were all so hopeless and helpless. They really did personify the end of an era - the end of the aristocracy in Japan.


message 36: by Carol (last edited Aug 30, 2018 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carol (carolfromnc) Cordelia wrote: "Guess what? I have finished it at last.

What a very strange and sad little book. I'm not sure that I really enjoyed it. I did read all the letters in the end. I think that they were important in t..."


I read this book and an arc, The Cake Tree in the Ruins by Akiyuki Nosaka about two weeks apart. Cake Tree is a collection of short stories, all of which end on or around August 15, 1945, the day on which Japan surrendered. We tend to give little thought to the total upheaval of a country and society that loses a war, focusing on the military aspects - the treaties, trials for war criminals, the mechanics of surrender, the frequent slaughter by the winners of everyone in power who supported the losing government - instead of the experience of residents. But the people were living in poverty and starving for months before the war's end. Military personnel had priority for food, but there wasn't enough for them either. Beri beri was common. It was the same story in most of the American South in the last year before its surrender.

So after surrender, what is a former aristrocrat to do in a society that no longer has an aristrocracy? Get a job? Or a young woman looking to marry and raise a family, but there are precious few of her generation of young men with whom to do so. I've read many great books about the impact of WWI on British society, families, women. But I've not once read about Japan in the immediate aftermath of WWII.

So that's my ramble for the day. :)


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