Yoko Tawada

Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960, moved to Hamburg when she was twenty-two, and then to Berlin in 2006. She writes in both Japanese and German, and has published several books—stories, novels, poems, plays, essays—in both languages. She has received numerous awards for her writing including the Akutagawa Prize, the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, the Kleist Prize, and the Goethe Medal. New Directions publishes her story collections Where Europe Begins (with a Preface by Wim Wenders) and Facing the Bridge, as well her novels The Naked Eye, The Bridegroom Was a Dog, Memoirs of a Polar Bear, and The Emissary.

Photo credit: Nina Subin

The Emissary

Fiction by Yoko Tawada

Translated by Margaret Mitsutani

Yoko Tawada’s new novel, The Emissary, is a breathtakingly lighthearted meditation on mortality. 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.…
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Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Fiction by Yoko Tawada

Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

Memoirs of a Polar Bear stars three generations of talented writers and performers. Famous stars of the literary world, the circus, and the zoo, they happen to be polar bears who move human society. In part one, the matriarch, enjoying “the intimacy of being alone with my pen,” accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography in the Soviet Union. In part two, her daughter Tosca moves to East Germany and pioneers a thrilling circus act.…
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The Bridegroom Was a Dog

Fiction by Yoko Tawada

Translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani

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.…
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The Naked Eye

Fiction by Yoko Tawada

Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

A precocious Vietnamese high school student — known as the pupil with “the iron blouse” — in Ho Chi Minh City is invited to an International Youth Conference in East Berlin. But, in East Berlin, as she is preparing to present her paper in Russian on “Vietnam as a Victim of American Imperialism,” she is abruptly kidnapped and taken to a small town in West Germany. After a strange spell of domestic-sexual boredom with her lover-abductor — and though “the Berlin Wall was said to be more difficult to break through than the Great Wall of China” — she escapes on a train to Moscow … but mistakenly arrives in Paris.…
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Facing the Bridge

Fiction by Yoko Tawada

Amo, an African kidnapped to Europe as a boy, and Tamao, a Japanese exchange student in Germany, live in different countries but are being followed by the same shadow…Kazuko, a young professional tourist, is lured to Vietnam by a mysterious postcard…On the Canary Islands, a nameless translator battles a banana grove and a series of Saint Georges… These three new tales by master storyteller Yoko Tawada cross cultures and histories with a sensuous playfulness as sweet as a box of candied hearts—even Michael Jackson makes an appearance.…
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Where Europe Begins

Fiction by Yoko Tawada

Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

Where Europe Begins presents a collection of startling new stories by Japanese writer Yoko Tawada. Moving through landscapes of fairy tales, family history, strange words and letters, dreams, and every-day reality, Tawada’s work blurs divisions between fact and fiction, prose and poetry. Often set in physical spaces as disparate as Japan, Siberia, Russia, and Germany, these tales describe a fragmented world where even a city or the human body can become a sort of text.…
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Everywhere in the Japan of Yoko Tawada’s The Emissary, strange mutations unfold. In the years (perhaps decades, or perhaps generations) since an environmental catastrophe, the basic tenets of biology have broken down. Children are born weak, with birdlike bones and soft teeth. The elderly, in turn, are youthful, athletic, seem to have been ‘robbed of death’. Men begin to experience menopausal symptoms as they age. Everyone’s sex changes inexplicably and at random at least once in their lives…Tawada has gifted us a quiet new magical realism for the Anthropocene.

The White Review

A mini-epic of eco-terror, family drama and speculative fiction. Tawada’s interest is satirical as much as tragic, with public holidays chosen by popular vote (Labour Day becomes Being Alive Is Enough Day) and a privatized police force whose activities now centre on its brass band. It’s this askew way of looking at things amid the ostensibly grim premise, and a sprightly use of language that makes The Emissary a book unlike any other.

The Guardian

Like sashimono woodwork, Tawada needs no exposition to nail down her dystopia. The Emissary achieves a technically impossible balance of open-hearted fable and cold-blooded satire.

Financial Times

Only the most profound reverence, I felt, could do justice to this writer and this work.

—Wim Wenders

Tawada is a great disciple of Kafka’s.

—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

Tawada masterfully transports the reader to this place approaching transcendence, where language — so distinctly human, we suppose — brings us into imaginative intimacy with another kind of being.

—Nathan Goldman, Full Stop

Tawada asks us to see writing from an unusual perspective: it is like balancing on a ball, or hunting. Thus we’re forced to see writing not just as a cerebral art but a physical one, as well.

—Chad W. Post, Three Percent

Tawada bears out the truth that tongues can also bring inventive thoughts to vibrant life.

—Steven G. Kellman, The Boston Globe

What propels Tawada’s stories is the unassailable logic of dreams and fairy tales, coupled with verbal energy. Tawada’s images resonate simultaneously on different levels.

The Village Voice

Tawada’s chilling evocations of disorientation are the peers of Paul Bowles’ most chilling stories.


When reading Yoko Tawada…one is struck less by the resemblance of her fiction to that of other authors than by its utter originality.

The Japan Times

Tawada’s stories agitate the mind like songs half remembered or treasure boxes whose keys are locked within.

The New York Times

A writer of scrupulous intensity.

Kirkus Reviews

In Tawada’s work, one has the feeling of having wandered into a mythology that is not one’s own.

—Rivka Galchen

Tawada’s stories agitate the mind like songs half remembered or treasure boxes whose keys are locked within.

New York Times
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