cover image Self-Portraits: Stories

Self-Portraits: Stories

Osamu Dazai, trans. from the Japanese by Ralph McCarthy. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3226-5

This revelatory collection of autobiographical stories by Dazai (1909–1948) lends context to his classic longer works, The Flowers of Buffoonery and No Longer Human. Often, the delightfully barbed musings feel like the remembrances of an aging rock star, as in “Eight Views of Tokyo,” in which the narrator describes an attempt to write a story of his youth among the city’s strivers, who are drawn to the “charmless, featureless plain” on which Tokyo was built to “regard one another with jealous, hostile eyes.” “Canis familiaris” begins with a characteristically wry mix of bravado and resignation: “I have confidence when it comes to dogs. I’m confident that eventually I’ll be bitten by one.” In “Thinking of Zenzō ,” Dazai writes of getting scammed by a woman posing as a farmer who overcharges him for roses. For all the hijinks, stories like “Early Light,” which finds Dazai and his wife and two children on the run from bomb threats in the spring of 1945, lend necessary gravitas. As acidic and addictive as a bag of sour candy, this smart selection of Dazai’s shorts is one to savor. (Feb.)