Recessive, lunar beauty [with] a high sheen. Her language has never been so arresting—flickering brilliance.
—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

Winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature

Library Journal Best Books of 2018

The Emissary

Fiction by Yoko Tawada

Translated from the Japanese 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. Deftly turning inside out the dystopian scenario, Yoko Tawada creates an irrepressibly funny, playfully joyous novel, with a legerdemain uniquely her own.

Editions: Paperback

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Paperback (published April 24, 2018)

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Ebook (published April 10, 2018)


Yoko Tawada

Contemporary Japanese-German prose writer

Recessive, lunar beauty [with] a high sheen. Her language has never been so arresting—flickering brilliance.
—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
Tawada, who writes in both Japanese and German, uses a light tone that frequently leans into gentle abstraction and wry humor, producing a slim novel that charms as much as it provokes reflection.
The Japan News
Tawada’s novel is infused with the anxieties of a “society changing at the speed of pebbles rolling down a steep hill,” yet she imagines a ruined world with humor and grace.
Publishers Weekly
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
A Hieronymus Bosch–like painting in novel form. Tawada’s charming surrealism imparts an off-kilter quality to her work that would make it feel slight, if it weren’t for the density, precision, and uniqueness of her mind. A slim and beguiling novel in Margaret Mitsutani’s enchanting and flawless translation.
—Marie Mutsuki Mockett, Public Books
Charming, light, and unapologetically strange… There’s an impish delight in [each] sentence that energizes what is otherwise a despairing note. Tawada finds a way to make a story of old men trapped in unending life and children fated to die before their time joyful, comic, and—frankly—a huge comfort.
—J.W. McCormack, BOMB
A phantasmagoric representation of humanity’s fraught relationship with technology and the natural world.
—Brian Haman, Asian Review of Books
The Emissary carries us beyond the limits of what is it is to be human, in order to remind us of what we must hold dearest in our conflicted world, our humanity.
—Sjón, author of Moonstone
Tawada’s latest disorienting mythology is set in a Japan ravaged by a catastrophe. If children are the future, what does it presage that, post-disaster, they are emerging from the womb as frail, aged creatures blessed with an uncanny wisdom?
The Millions
An airily beautiful dystopian novella about mortality. Tawada’s quirky style and ability to jump from realism to abstraction manages to both chastise humanity for the path we are taking towards destruction and look hopefully toward an unknown future.
—Enobong Essien, Booklist
In this slim, impactful novel, surrealist master Tawada imagines a dystopian Japan reckoning with its own identity. An ebullient meditation on language and time that feels strikingly significant in the present moment.