The always astonishing Yoko Tawada here takes a walk on the supernatural side of the street. In “Kollwitzstrasse,” as the narrator muses on former East Berlin’s new bourgeois health food stores, so popular with wealthy young people, a ghost boy begs her to buy him the old-fashioned sweets he craves. She worries that sugar’s still sugar—but why lecture him, since he’s already dead? Then white feathers fall from her head and she seems to be turning into a crane . . . Pure white kittens and a great Russian poet haunt “Majakowskiring”: the narrator who reveres Mayakovsky’s work is delighted to meet his ghost. And finally, in “Pushkin Allee,” a huge Soviet-era memorial of soldiers comes to life—and, “for a scene of carnage everything was awfully well-ordered.” Each of these stories opens up into new dimensions the work of this magisterial writer.
In Scattered All Over the Earth, the mind-expanding, cheerfully dystopian new novel by Yoko Tawada, the world’s climate disaster and its attendant refugee crises is viewed through the loving twin lenses of friendship and linguistic ingenuity.
Welcome to the not-too-distant future: Japan, having vanished from the face of the earth, is now remembered as “the land of sushi.” Hiruko, a former citizen and a climate refugee, has a job teaching immigrant children in Denmark with her invented language Panska (Pan-Scandinavian): “homemade language. no country to stay in. three countries I experienced. insufficient space in brain. so made new language. homemade language.”
As she searches for anyone who can still speak her mother tongue, Hiruko soon makes new friends. Her troupe travels to France and Stockholm, and in a series of mesmerizing scenes encounters an umami cooking competition, a dead whale, an ultranationalist, Kakuzo robots, and much more—each scene more vivid than the last.
With its intrepid band of companions, Scattered All Over the Earth (the first novel of a trilogy) may bring to mind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or a surreal Wind in the Willows, but really it’s just another sui generis Yoko Tawada masterwork.
After suffering a massive, irreparable disaster, Japan cuts itself off from the world. Children are born so weak they can barely walk; the only people with any get-up-and-go are the elderly. Mumei lives with his always worried great-grandfather Yoshiro, and they carry on a day-to-day routine in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima time. Mumei may be frail and gray-haired, but he is a beacon of hope: full of wit and free of self-pity. Deftly turning inside out the dystopian scenario, Yoko Tawada creates an irrepressibly funny, playfully joyous novel, with a legerdemain uniquely her own.
The Bridegroom Was a Dog is perhaps the Japanese writer Yoko Tawada’s most famous work. Its initial publication in 1998 garnered admiration from _The New Yorker, _ which praised it as a “fast-moving, mysteriously compelling tale that has the dream quality of Kafka.”
The Bridegroom Was a Dog begins with a schoolteacher telling a fable to her students. In the fable, a princess promises her hand in marriage to a dog that has licked her bottom clean. The story takes an even stranger twist when that very dog appears to the schoolteacher in real life as a doglike man. A romantic — and sexual — courtship develops, much to the chagrin of her friends, who have suspicions about the man’s identity.