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Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai, Translated by Allison Markin Powell

Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai is a short book of less than 100 pages from One Peace Books and is translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell.  The novella, which reads more like a narrative poem, has readers spend the day with a teenage girl who is adjusting to life after the death of her father and as a blossoming women in a post-WWII Japan.  Readers clearly see the clash between traditional Japanese customs of women who are quiet and subservient to others needs with the young woman’s need to express herself and be an individual.

“Waking up in the morning is always interesting.  It reminds me of when we’re playing hide-and-seek — I’m hidden crouching in the pitch-dark closet and suddenly Deko throws open the sliding door, sunlight pouring in as she shouts, ‘Found you!’ — that dazzling glare followed by an awkward pause, and then, my heart pounding as I adjust the front of my kimono and emerge from the closet, I’m slightly self-conscious and then suddenly irritated and annoyed — it feels similar, but no, not quite like that, somehow even more unbearable.” (page 7)

Like many pieces from Asian culture, spirits make an appearance, but these ghosts are thoughts and images that assail the young girl on a daily basis — perhaps images of war or the regrets she has about how she has treated her mother since her father’s death or even the moments she shared and failed to share with her father when he was alive.  It is clear that she is wavering, stuck between her girlhood and her pending womanhood — the past and the present.  She revels in the simple beauty of nature, while she reviles the obsequious nature of her family life.  The dichotomy of her existence plagues her throughout the novella as she rails against her servile nature and tries to hold back her individuality, at least in the presence of her mother.

“Falling asleep is such a strange feeling.  It’s like a carp or an eel is tugging on a fishing line,or something heavy like a lead weight is pulling on the line that I am holding with my head, as I doze off to sleep, the line slackens up a bit.  When that happens, it startles me back to awareness.”  (Page 93)

Dazai and Powell have captured the inner workings of a teenage mind with ease, and for those who have moved beyond those years, it could be tiresome.  However, there is beauty in Dazai’s simple prose that captures feelings so easily, evoking camaraderie with readers and deep seated understanding.  Not much happens plot wise in the novel, but its not necessary as readers come to understand the protagonist and her motivations.  She’s angsty, eager to please, frightened of the future, and mourning her past.  Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai, translated by Allison Markin Powell offers readers a stream of consciousness in a young girl’s life during not only her transition from girl to woman, but from her country’s transition from the past to more modern sensibilities and the struggle that places on individuals torn between tradition and change.

**I received this book from Caribousmom, and was eager to read it as part of my efforts to read more translated works in 2012.**

This is my 2nd book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

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  • Sounds like an interesting read! I love the cover (a weak spot for great covers I guess ;).
    Like Darlene I have the feeling the book intrigues me, the coming of age or maybe still that cover? Who knows. To be read!

  • I’ve seen this one somewhere but just can’t place it. I like the sound of it!

  • This book intrigues me for some reason. I think I’d probably enjoy it.

  • I’m so far past those years that I imagine I’d find this tiresome.

  • Interesting — not exactly my kind of read but I’ve been trying to be more open-minded about my reading this year — to pick up books that might not immediately grab me (because that says something, too!).

    Is this historical? The cover totally bothers me — it looks too J-Pop-ish — is that the intended audience, I wonder?

    • It is historical, but not overtly so. Its more about the teen girl, but there are moments of where tradition and modernity clash in post-WWII Japan. I’m not sure what you mean by J-Pop-ish, but I think its meant to signify the single perspective in the book, but also the vastness of that perspective’s applicability to the surrounding world.

  • Glad you were able to enjoy this one more than I did. I thought the writing was beautiful, but I need plot to keep my attention. Great review!

    • I think I was prepared from Wendy’s review not to expect plot and from what you had said in yours…I think I put those expectations aside and just took it for what it was meant to be.