Tag Archives: Japan

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai (5 Star Review by Jason S. ’25)

No Longer HumanNo Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

TW: suicide, substance abuse, misogyny

No Longer Human, Osamu Dazai’s last work, is a heavy semi-autobiographical novel told mostly through the abandoned memoirs of Oba Yozo, a man whose failure to understand and properly interact with a thoroughly westernized pre-WWII Japanese society forces him to live under the assumption that he is disqualified from humanity. The narrative is bookended by an observer whose findings reframe Yozo’s life through a set of more forgiving, though by no means rose-tinted, lenses.

I find Yozo to be an incredibly well-written character. This does not mean that I like him as a person; on the contrary he is melancholy, irresponsible, and thus extremely difficult to like. However, his mistakes are painfully human. This being said, Yozo’s narration is at times dominated by an unusual misogyny that uncomfortably extends beyond the already alienating context of his misanthropy. Even more concerning for a semi-autobiographical novel, quite a few women are written by Dazai to passively conform to Yozo’s views concerning a vulnerable, inscrutable woman.

This intolerance, though, is a human fault. Inexcusable, but quietly human. Passing judgements onto Yozo’s faults inevitably made me question my own. The text, though genuinely depressing, sits at an extremely accessible 177 pages. No Longer Human is a novel I will return to when my values will have unrecognizably shifted, and one that I recommend best with a highlighter, a good pen, and an open mind. —Review by Jason S. ’25

Jason’s book recommendations for those who enjoyed No Longer Human:

Notes from the Underground is a strikingly similar work; indeed, Dazai even explicitly communicates his Dostoevsky influences at one point in No Longer Human.

Siddhartha is a very interesting piece in comparison.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men explores many of the same issues in radically different contexts, particularly the story “The Depressed Person.”

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Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Review by Alena S. ’24)

Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Norwegian Wood is my comfort book, and not because reading it leaves me feeling warm or happy—but because I love its transparency. This book displays the ugly sides of human nature, yet it hints at tenderness due to how personal it is. Murakami expertly balances the dark themes of mental illness and suicide with humorous scenes, and the main character Toru makes me laugh quite a bit despite not being a funny character. Although the tale is set in the late 60s, it has a universal appeal that doesn’t feel dated, and ironically, despite the precise descriptions of nature and people, something about the story gives it an otherworldly feel.

Since technology was not as advanced nor widespread at the time, people were more in touch with nature, and Murakami’s description of scenery and rain was incredibly beautiful — one of my favorite aspects of the book. Even though this book was really unorthodox in its structure and plot compared to books I’ve read in the past, I rated it four stars because I feel like the protagonist helped me better understand a side of personal struggles and hardships that I hadn’t previously experienced myself. However, the book does go through a lot of poignant and deep discussion about the connection between life and death, and the open ending felt like a sudden and unrealistic rush that left no room for afterthought compared to the heavy plot. —Review by Alena S. ‘24

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The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang (Review by Anika F. ’21)

The Poppy War (The Poppy War, #1)The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though this was the first book I read in 2021, I’m pretty sure that this will be one of my favorites from this year. The Poppy War is a grimdark east-Asian inspired historical fantasy centers around the a young girl named Rin. She is a war orphan from the first Poppy War, raised in a poor, opium-smuggling family that treats her as a servant. Rin’s only escape from a forced marriage is to pass a merit-based exam to enter Sinegard, Nikara’s elite military academy. In a surprising shock of events, Rin places into Sinegard, but finds that the experience is not what she expects: She is isolated as a poor and dark-skinned girl from the south, but as she rises in the academy ranks, she begins to realize that the gods of legend aren’t as fictional as people think. As a war is brewing, will she be able to survive and save her nation?

Normally, novels tend to excel in one of two categories: character development or plot development. Very few manage to do both well, but The Poppy War does and does so exceptionally. All character storylines are extremely interesting to follow, and the plot is well-paced, complex, and fascinating. Rin is a determined and headstrong protagonist who makes a lot of choices that readers probably will not agree with. However, her confidence and assertiveness compels the reader to support her no matter what gory or twisted option she chooses. Each detail is action-packed and engrossing, and all the battle scenes delivered believable and heartbreaking consequences.

Lastly, this book tackles some difficult themes. It retells the Rape of Nanking, in which Japanese troops attacked China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The impact of war on civilization is heavily discussed along with colorism and colonization. Multiple chapters delve deep into graphic scenes that involve murder, violence, and sexual assault, as well as exploring drug addiction, trauma, and self-harm. So if you do decide to try this book, please read with caution. —Review by Anika F. ’21

For those who enjoyed this book, Anika has recommended The Priory of the Orange Tree for you to check out!

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Warcross by Marie Lu (review by Tasha M. ’20)

Warcross (Warcross, #1)Warcross by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marie Lu’s Warcross at first seems like an overdone virtual reality dystopia, but provides a somewhat original take on the topic. Emika Chen, a hacker barely able to pay rent, shocks the world by “glitching” into the international tournament of Warcross, the most popular virtual reality video game. The creator of Warcross enters her into the tournament to gain inside information on someone trying to infiltrate the systems.

Lu’s future world is believable and immersive. The description was well-mixed with plot that was engaging and moved at a decent pace; however, the ending confused me and seemed like it should have been the first chapter of the sequel.

The characters were incredibly well-developed, especially Emika. She comes off as a strong, knowledgeable protagonist, but later on, her vulnerable side begins to show. While I would have liked to know more about the supporting characters, they had unique personalities. Also worth noting is the characters’ diversity: along with the Asian-American protagonist, Warcross features a disabled character, a gay character, and a Hispanic character. My only criticism is that the romance seemed forced.

All in all, Warcross is an enjoyable but not spectacular read, especially for fans of YA or science fiction. – Tasha M. ’20

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The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama (review by Catherine H. ’17)

The Street of a Thousand BlossomsThe Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gail Tsukiyama’s simple yet beautiful writing style draws the reader into this well crafted tale of two brothers whose stories span several decades. Set in Japan in 1939 on the eve of the second world war, Hiroshi finds his passion in sumo wrestling while his younger brother Kenji discovers the ancient art of carving masks for traditional Japanese theater. When the war comes, the two must readjust their lives, and when it is over, they must take part in the rebuilding of their nation.

I found this novel to be deeply touching and greatly appreciated the way Tsukiyama wrote about the struggles that each of the characters face and would highly recommend it to any reader looking for a coming of age story.

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The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (review by Catherine H. ’17)

The Samurai's GardenThe Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden tells the tale of a young Chinese man, Stephen, who travels to a sea-side town in Japan to recover from tuberculosis during the Second Sino-Japanese war in the late 1930s. He stays with Matsu, who has worked for Stephen’s family all his life, and learns to live in the quiet town of Tarumi while he regains his strength. Stephen also meets Matsu’s friend Sachi, also an outcast, and slowly gains her trust. This book tells a touching story about friendship in a time of war and Tsukiyama’s simple, yet elegant language really draws the reader into Stephen’s story. I really appreciated learning about the war and how Tsukiyama incorporated Stephen’s identity as a Chinese man who is immersed in Japanese culture and makes friends at Tarumi during this time period. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a satisfying read.

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South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami (review by Andrew R. ’17)

South of the Border, West of the SunSouth of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

South of the Border, West of the Sun is infuriating—not in the manner of books that disappoint and disgust from beginning to end, but in the way of plots that, after a few failed early chapters, reward readers with tantalizing tastes of undeniable brilliance. If only Haruki Murakami had seen fit to split the first half of the book, which chronicles the narrator’s over dramatic childhood in a wearyingly trite style, from the second half… Then I could assign a one-star rating to the first segment and forget about it, focusing instead on the simple, understated beauty that underlines the later chapters as they trace the protagonist Hajime’s relationships, past and present, with other characters. But, alas, the tale of Hajime’s later life is tainted by the cringe-worthy opening chapters; there’s no way to get the best parts of the novel without the worst. If there were, though, I would recommend the second half of South of the Border, West of the Sun to anyone and everyone who’s ever laid hands on a book. – Andrew R. ’17

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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (review by Sra. Moss, Harker teacher)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Survival, Resilience and Redemption” read the book’s subtitle. The most amazing thing about this book is that it’s a true story! Louis Zamperini, now age 93, was a delinquent youth, then trained for and ran in the 1936 Olympics, survived 49 days at sea after being shot down over the Pacific in WW II and then three years in a prison camp in Japan. It was hard to imagine how things could ever get worse for this man, as I turned page after page, yet he survived it all to become an inspirational speaker and impassioned role model for troubled youth. It is only a matter of time before this is made into a movie. Hmmm, which actor will play him? He’ll have enormous shoes to fill! – Sra. Moss, Harker teacher

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