A mind-expanding, cheerfully dystopian new novel by Yoko Tawada, winner of the National Book Award
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, its former citizen and a climate refugee herself, 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, encountering an umami cooking competition; a dead whale; an ultra-nationalist named Breivik; unrequited love; Kakuzo robots; red herrings; uranium; an Andalusian matador. Episodic and mesmerizing scenes flash vividly along, and soon they’re all next off to Stockholm.
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 is just another sui generis Yoko Tawada masterwork.
Vernacular noir, etymological postapocalypse, a romance in syntax it's hard to nail down which genre National Book Award winner Tawada's brilliant and beguiling latest belongs to, except to say it's deeply rooted in the power of language. At the center is Huriko, a refugee from a Japan that has vanished both from maps and cultural memory, who works as a children's illustrator in Denmark, where she befriends the diffident Knut, a computer game programmer with a connoisseur's interest in language and who is fascinated by Huriko's homegrown dialect, which she calls "Panska." Soon a group of amateur linguists forms, including Akash, a trans Indian woman, and Nanook, a Greenland Inuit sushi chef masquerading as an authority on Asian cooking. After they visit an umami festival in Trier, they continue to a culinary competition in Oslo, only to be derailed by a racist terror attack and an investigation into the killing of whales for their meat. Eventually, Huriko considers leaving the group for Arles, to meet the precocious son of a robot programmer in love with language and ships of all sizes, who may hold the secrets to Huriko's past and country of origin. At every turn, at least two narratives coexist: the central story line and another hidden just under the surface, emerging through inflections of speech and the vagaries of translation, making the text as thrillingly complex as its characters. This pulls readers deep into the author's polyphonic convergence of cultures. Once again, Tawada doesn't cease to amaze.
Very Interesting — Recommend!
I originally did not know this book was the first in a trilogy and only now know that after reading it! It was cerebral and intertwined, but the story kept moving in a way that keeps you, not hooked, but, intrigued. I am personally fascinated with languages and this book played to that nicely but in a very niche way; I could see if you are not into that, this book could be too specific for you. Will I read the other two books? I just might!