Schoolgirl - Osamu Dazai | Japanese YA Novel Week


I am reviewing this book as part of the Japanese YA Novel week I am co-hosting with Nina at Death Books and Tea
If you would like more information about the week, head over here.

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Summary from Amazon:
The novella that first propelled Dazai into the literary elite of post-war Japan. Essentially the start of Dazai's career, Schoolgirl gained notoriety for its ironic and inventive use of language. Now it illuminates the prevalent social structures of a lost time, as well as the struggle of the individual against them - a theme that occupied Dazai's life both personally and professionally. This new translation preserves the playful language of the original and offers the reader a new window into the mind of one of the greatest Japanese authors of the 20th century.
A day in the life of a teenage girl, on the verge of becom­ing a woman. She is deal­ing with a depressed mom, cop­ing with the recent death of her dad, school and the other prob­lems girls like her deal on a daily base. While her inner tur­moil is boil­ing, she keeps a cool façade when it comes to por­tray­ing what she feels. Some­times hyp­o­crit­i­cal, some­times sad but always interesting.

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Schoolgirl takes you on the emotional rollercoaster that is a day in the mind of a teenage girl. The girl might seem like a regular teenager on the outside, whining like a spoilt child and preoccupied by mundane things, but on the inside she lays bare her personality. It is slightly voyeuristic to read as we are privvy to her most intimate thoughts. The girl is on the verge of womanhood and you can feel how desoriented she is by the whole process of growing up and dealing with her isolation and grief. Her father has passed away and she is trying to live with her grieving mother and without her sister who has moved away to live with her husband.

This very short coming of age story is quite simply perfect. In one day of the girl's life, we can get a glimpse of her personality, her aspirations and her sadness. All her emotions are more intense as if everything was seen through a magnifying glass. Happy moments are lived ecstatically and down times take a form of gloomy depression which seems to drain the life out of her. This entire day spent in her head is an exercise of introspection where she thinks about herself and how she can improve her actions to be the person she aspires to be.

A sort of duality comes out when we realise that the girl is conscious of her own flaws and of being quite unremarkable, but at the same time craving for more and for something extra-ordinary to take place. Her opinion of herself is quite bad as she is aiming for purity and anything less looks "uninspired". On that account, she is wholly uncompromising and that is why she is quite severe in her opinion of others. She wants to be herself and genuine but at the same time she realises that she doesn't have much to offer the world. "I want to live beautifully" is her aspiration but she knows that "genuine beauty is always meaningless, without virtue".

The girl also wants to be taken seriously and as an adult. Away from the innocence of youth, she is old enough to see when her mother lies or pretends not to be hurt by her grief. By wanting to be taken seriously she also wants her mother and others to pay attention to her. She loves reading and thinking about someone else's life as she says "The sly ability to steal someone else's experience and recreate it as if it were my own is the only real talent I possess."

This is a very short book whose message seems to me quite universal. It is definitely a must read for teenage girls (and parents of teenage girls for that matter). The writing is beautiful and I spent the whole time highlighting sentences (that's why I have been quoting the book during the review). The first person point of view is a trademark style for Osamu Dazai. He is considered as one of the most important fiction writer of the 20th century Japan.

It is as much a work of fiction about a teenage girl as a very interesting basis for a discussion on the various themes present in the book: individuality, feminity, beauty, etc.

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