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.

Japanese Literature Challenge 12

Several dear blog friends have inquired about hosting another Japanese Literature Challenge, which touches me as it is an interest for which my heart never wants to let go. In the previous eleven years, I have run it from June to January, but now I am beginning with January and ending in March. I think we should have at least three months in which to indulge this passion, especially as I believe that Frances and I spoke of reading The Pillow Book in February.

There will be give-aways during the challenge, which I will send internationally. One of them is the advanced reading copy I have of Mishima’s book Star which will be published by New Directions Publishing April 30, 2019. Another is a book I have from nyrb entitled The Gate by Natsume Soseki. I will also give away a copy of The Emissary by Yoko Tawada which recently won the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature. Of course, what would a Japanese Literature Challenge by without Haruki Murakami? I will give away a Vintage Mini copy of his book, Desire, in which the “five weird and wonderful tales collected here each unlock the many-tongued language of desire, whether it takes the form of hunger, lust, sudden infatuation or the secret longings of the heart.” (back cover)

Since blogging has expanded into other social platforms, let’s use #JLC12 on Twitter or Instagram. And if you’ll leave a comment here, on this post, I will publish a weekly update including the book(s) you read and a link to your post if you wrote one.

So please, join The Reading Life, Graasland, Reading The World, Terri Talks Books, Tredynas Days, and me in this year’s Japanese Literature Challenge 12. I am eager to begin.