Winner of 2018 National Book Award in Translated Literature
Library Journal Best Books of 2018
Yoko Tawada’s new novel is a breathtakingly light-hearted meditation on mortality and fully displays what Rivka Galchen has called her “brilliant, shimmering, magnificent strangeness”
Japan, after suffering from a massive irreparable disaster, cuts itself off from the world. Children are so weak they can barely stand or walk: the only people with any get-go are the elderly. Mumei lives with his grandfather Yoshiro, who worries about him constantly. They carry on a day-to-day routine in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima time, with all the children born ancient—frail and gray-haired, yet incredibly compassionate and wise. Mumei may be enfeebled and feverish, but he is a beacon of hope, full of wit and free of self-pity and pessimism. Yoshiro concentrates on nourishing Mumei, a strangely wonderful boy who offers “the beauty of the time that is yet to come.”
A delightful, irrepressibly funny book, The Emissary is filled with light. Yoko Tawada, deftly turning inside-out “the curse,” defies gravity and creates a playful joyous novel out of a dystopian one, with a legerdemain uniquely her own.
An anxious writer frets over his wastrel of a great-grandson in this inventive dystopian novel from Tawada (Memoirs of a Polar Bear). Its environment "irreversibly contaminated," near-future Japan has been cut off from the outside world, leaving 108-year-old Yoshiro trapped with his great-grandson Mumei in a spartan "temporary" house. The population is divided between those born before the calamity whose life spans have been mysteriously lengthened and those enfeebled by it: "The aged could not die; along with the gift of everlasting life, they were burdened with the terrible task of watching their great-grandchildren die." Yoshiro dreams of escape, but it is Mumei who, despite his inability to walk or chew properly, is selected as one of several "especially bright children to send abroad as emissaries." Mumei's deteriorating condition is signalled by his hair turning grey, and soon he begins having difficulty breathing. These health problems complicate his potential deployment; while he awaits a decision, he turns to the more urgent task of comforting Yoshiro. 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.