The Emissary by Yoko Tawada (Winner of The National Book Award for Translated Literature Prize in 2018, Winner Of My Heart This Weekend)


My husband became quite ill in the night with the flu, and the weather outside is typical of February in Illinois: rain mixed with sleet and cloudy overhead. Not that I mind very much. Poor weather always gives me an excuse to indulge my passion for reading.

I have begun reading All Hallow’s Eve by Charles Williams for a reading group at Wheaton College. He was one of the Inklings, a group comprised of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on whom I would dearly love to eavesdrop were they still alive.

And, I am reading the rest of what I have planned to read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 12 because other events are also calling to me in March. (Boekenweek, celebrating Dutch literature in the Netherlands, and the announcement of the Man Booker International Prize long list for 2019.)

But, this. This book, The Emissary. It is everything I love about reading translated literature. Tawada’s writing is lyrical; the translation, masterful. I cannot imagine how words in Japanese can be so smoothly transitioned into English. Take this example:

Long ago, this sort of purposeless running had been referred to as jogging, but with foreign words falling out of use, it is now called loping down, an expression that had started out as a joke meaning “if you lope your blood pressure goes down,” but everybody called it that these days. And kids Mumei’s age would never have dreamt that adding just an e in front of it the word lope could conjure up visions of a young woman climbing down a ladder in the middle of the night to run away with her lover.

It is a wonderful book of a world turned upside down, in Japan, where the old get older and stronger, while the young become weaker. It turns what is often assumed to be true into a new truth, made visible through Tawada’s imaginative writing. I am enamored of Mumei, the apparently special needs great-grandchild of Yoshiro, who despite his gruff nature, is as tender and caring as anyone could hope his grandfather to be.

13 thoughts on “The Emissary by Yoko Tawada (Winner of The National Book Award for Translated Literature Prize in 2018, Winner Of My Heart This Weekend)”

  1. This was one of the books that took me by surprise last year and left me thinking about it long after I finished it. It’s haunting yet gentle and makes you think about the future and the kind of world we will leave to the younger generations. I loved this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just borrowed this from my library, so maybe this is the next one I should be reading for this challenge. Sounds very intriguing.

    Also, hope your husband feels better soon.


  3. This sounds like a marvelous book, Bellezza! Thank you for this post. I hope your husband feels better soon, and that you stay healthy. Have a terrific week!


  4. The cover reminded me, a bit, of the Dick and Jane books I read as a child in Reading class. There’s something so innocent and playful about him (Mumei) in the picture, which is true of his character in the story. Darling wold be a good adjective. ☺️


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