Scattered All Over the Earth and Three Streets are exceedingly original works by an artist who never ceases to challenge her readers to see the world differently. When taken as inroads into Tawada’s singular mind and larger conceptual project, both books must be not only understood as literature, but literature of an inimitable sort. We can only hope for more.

Reed McConnell, The Baffler

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

cover image of the book Paul Celan and the Trans-Tibetan Angel

Paul Celan and the Trans-Tibetan Angel

by Yoko Tawada

Translated by Susan Bernofsky

With a contribution by Susan Bernofsky

Patrik, who sometimes calls himself “the patient,” is a literary researcher living in present-day Berlin. The city is just coming back to life after lockdown, and his beloved opera houses are open again, but Patrik cannot leave the house and hardly manages to get out of bed. When he shaves his head, his girlfriend scolds him, “What have you done to your head? I don’t want to be with a prisoner from a concentration camp!” He is supposed to give a paper at a conference in Paris, on the poetry collection Threadsuns by Paul Celan, but he can’t manage to get past the first question on the registration form: “What is your nationality?” Then at a café (or in the memory of being at a café?), he meets a mysterious stranger. The man’s name is Leo-Eric Fu, and somehow he already knows Patrik…

In the spirit of imaginative homage like Roberto Bolaño’s Monsieur Pain, Antonio Tabucchi’s Requiem, and Thomas Bernhard’s Wittgenstein’s Nephew, Yoko Tawada’s mesmerizing new novel unfolds like a lucid dream in which friendship, conversation, reading, poetry, and music are the connecting threads that bind us together.

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cover image of the book Three Streets

Three Streets

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.

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cover image of the book Scattered All Over the Earth

Scattered All Over the Earth

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.

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cover image of the book The Emissary

The Emissary

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.

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cover image of the book Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Memoirs of a Polar Bear

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. And Tosca’s son—the last of their line—is Knut, born in part three and raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances in the Berlin zoo.

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cover image of the book The Bridegroom Was a Dog

The Bridegroom Was a Dog

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.

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cover image of the book The Naked Eye

The Naked Eye

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. Alone, broke, and in a completely foreign land, Anh (her false name) loses herself in the films of Catherine Deneuve as her real adventures begin. Dreamy, meditative, and filled with the gritty everyday perils of a person living somewhere without papers (at one point Anh is subjected to some vampire-like skin experiments), The Naked Eye is a novel that is as surprising as it is delightful — each of the thirteen chapters titled after and framed by one of Deneuve’s films. “As far as I was concerned,” the narrator says while watching Deneuve on the screen, “the only woman in the world was you, and so I did not exist.” By the time 1989 comes along and the Iron Curtain falls, story and viewer have morphed into the dislocating beauty of both dancer and dance.

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cover image of the book Facing the Bridge

Facing the Bridge

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. In Facing the Bridge, Tawada’s second collection of stories with New Directions, obsession becomes delight as the reader is whisked into a world where identities flicker and shift in a never-ending balance.

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cover image of the book Where Europe Begins

Where Europe Begins

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. Suddenly, the reader becomes as much a foreigner as the author and the figures that fill this book: the ghost of a burned woman, a woman traveling on the Trans-Siberian railroad, a mechanical doll, a tongue, a monk who leaps into his own reflection. Tawada playfully makes the experience of estrangement–of a being in-between–both sensual and bewildering, and as a result practically invents a new way of seeing things while telling a fine story.

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Scattered All Over the Earth and Three Streets are exceedingly original works by an artist who never ceases to challenge her readers to see the world differently. When taken as inroads into Tawada’s singular mind and larger conceptual project, both books must be not only understood as literature, but literature of an inimitable sort. We can only hope for more.

Reed McConnell, The Baffler

The world is close to our own, suggesting that soon our boundaries will radically change. Tawada reminds us that we, too, might become refugees from lands that no longer exist—obliterated by nuclear mishaps, rising water levels, or arbitrary lines drawn in history textbooks.

Emma Heath, Cleveland Review

Reading Tawada you feel her subtle authorial presence, simultaneously guiding the reader ashore and casting us out to sea; paradoxically, both lead to a single destination. Where do we — along with Hiruko, Knut, Akash, Tenzo, Nora and Susanoo — end up? It can only be described as somewhere soft and strange and new.

Financial Times

This dystopian novel is riveting, bizarre as can be, and like nothing else I’ve ever read. I’m terrified not enough people will read it.

Kamil Ahsan, NPR

These stories reinvent familiar landmarks and artworks, giving readers an imaginative and hopeful way to grapple with the history that’s written into the urban landscape.

Publishers Weekly

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

The New York Times

Tawada’s strange, exquisite book toys with ideas of language, identity, and what it means to own someones else’s story or one’s own.

The New Yorker

Magnificently strange. Tawada is reminiscent of Nikolai Gogol, for whom the natural situation for a ghost story was a minor government employee saving up to buy a fancy coat, the natural destiny of a nose to haunt its owner as an overbearing nobleman.

Rivka Galchen, New York Times Magazine

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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