The author Osamu Dazai committed suicide — several times. The first was on a cold December night in 1929, just before his school exams. But the overdose of sleeping pills he took was not enough; he survived, and graduated. The second was in October, 1930, on the barren sands of a beach in Kamakura — this time a double suicide with a young woman he barely knew. Tragically, she drowned, while Dazai was rescued by a passing fishing boat. He went on to marry and began a career as a writer. The third attempt was in the spring of 1933: He tried hanging himself from a beam in the mesmerizing stillness of his Tokyo apartment. Once again Dazai survived, though he was hospitalized and developed a morphine addiction. And the fourth was in the fall of 1936, when Dazai and his wife — with their marriage disintegrating — attempted a double suicide, but to their horror, they lived.

Born Shūji Tsushima, Dazai's life was by turns tragic and absurd, not unlike the portrayal of life in his stories. His 1948 novel "No Longer Human" ("Ningen Shikkaku") remains among the most popular books in modern Japanese literature, and an English translation by Donald Keene has recently been republished by New Directions. It opens with an admission: "I can't even guess myself what it must be like to live the life of a human being."

Throughout his life, Dazai struggled with his writing, his personal relationships and with the shifting norms of postwar Japanese society. He grappled with alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness. Beneath all this, however, lay a deeper struggle. As he writes in "No Longer Human," "What frightened me was the logic of the world; in it lay the foretaste of something incalculably powerful."