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Yōko Tawada Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

The Naked Eye (2004)Description / Buy at Amazon
Portrait of a Tongue (2013)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Last Children of Tokyo (2014)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Emissary (2014)Description / Buy at Amazon
Scattered All Over the Earth (2018)Description / Buy at Amazon
Paul Celan and the Trans-Tibetan Angel (2024)Description / Buy at Amazon

Publication Order of Short Stories/Novellas

The Bridegroom Was a Dog (1993)Description / Buy at Amazon

Publication Order of Collections

Where Europe Begins (1991)Description / Buy at Amazon
Facing the Bridge (2007)Description / Buy at Amazon
Memoirs of a Polar Bear (2014)Description / Buy at Amazon
3 Streets (2021)Description / Buy at Amazon

Publication Order of Anthologies

Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature(2011)Description / Buy at Amazon
Animalia(2018)Description / Buy at Amazon

Yoko Tawada is a Berlin-based award-winning Japanese author who writes in both German and Japanese. She has won numerous awards, including Tanizaki Prize, Akutagawa Prize, Izumi Kyoka Prize, Kleist Prize, and National Book Award, among other awards. Tawada graduated from Waseda University with a degree in education in 1982 and a master’s degree in German literature from Hamburg University, and later a doctorate from the University of Zurich.

Tawada’s writing career started in 1987 after publishing Nothing Only Where You Are, a poetry collection released in Japanese and German bilingual editions. In 2011, Tawada was inspired by the orphaned polar bear Knut, and in response, she authored three interlocking short stories that explored the relationship between humans and animals through the perspective of three generations of captive polar bears. Since Tawada writes in German and Japanese, some scholars have adopted the author’s use of the term exophony to detail a condition of writing stories in a non-native language. In writing books, Tawada draws from her own experiences adventuring between cultures and countries and also explores abstract bounds such as the boundaries between thoughts and emotions, life and dreams, and times before and after a disaster.
In her 2018 novel, Towada takes us in time in a near future Japan where the elderly lives beyond hundred years without losing their powers while the young folks become sickly and weak. Everyone in the country is concerned since the human race seems to be evolving in a way no one ever imagined after some catastrophe. The main characters are an orphaned boy named Mumei and an old man named Yoshiro. Yoshiro is the true definition of vigor and health despite being more than a hundred years old, while his young grandson is vitamin deficient, feverish and is facing an ultimate slow death.

This dystopian novella was originally written in Japanese but translated into English by Margaret Mitsutani. It is both beautiful, fascinating and, at the same time, unsettling. It is fascinating to read about the dystopian world and how it is presented. Throughout the entire writing, the author converts what seems an improbable scenario into a probable scenario. She presents us with a world where the phrase “healthy” doesn’t fit any child, a world where the aged can never die. The elderly must experience the pain of not being able to die while the kids struggle with their fevers, soft teeth and unending tiredness. The best part is that the super abilities of the aged folks are presented as something unquestionable and unremarkable in the story. The story begins with Yoshiro’s problem of finding a healthy dog to help with his daily morning run routine. Yes, even at the age of more than a hundred years, Yoshiro desires to jog every morning to help shed off extra energy before the day begins. This observation is provided right at the start of the story so the readers can’t really question it later, and it forms the foundation of the story.

The author then sets out her narrative drawing on politics, geography, and linguistics and pays a closer look at the cultural transformation in society. Dystopian Japan is an isolated country where young people are discouraged and, to an extent, forbidden to learn and speak foreign words, more so English words. Words such as “a walk” or “jogging” are considered outdated, and people don’t write in katakana anymore. When focusing on the environmental theme, the story talks about a catastrophe like an earthquake that resulted in mass contamination. Most of the forests became sick, resulting in the mass extinction of forest animals. There is a rumour of cellular destruction happening, but Tawada understands too well how to frighten and impress to the maximum hence creating an unsettling atmosphere throughout the story.
It’s not a surprise that such a story of this nature should come from Japan, where catastrophic events are never so far away from people’s minds. The Last Children of Tokyo is a book with so much relevance since, at present, there are plenty of environmental concerns from everyone across the globe, and the agenda of global warming and climate change is a global theme. In this way, the story tries to put emphasis on the people’s present fears and these fears are also connected to the concern of the ever-increasing global population. For example, the rise in the population of elderly people in the United Kingdom and the low birth rates in countries such as Russia. The references to bats and electric appliances in the story are not coincidental. In Yoko Tawada’s narrative, the government is always discouraging people from owning electrical appliances in their homes as they are associated with a nervous disorder, and this can be closely associated with the current rising concerns revolving around technology such as the microwave which emits electromagnetic fields which poses a negative impact on a person’s health.

Additionally, bats are also referenced in the novella since their milk is highly preferred over that of cows. Bats have also been associated with potentially holding the key to anti-ageing since they’ve been discovered to have age-defying chromosomes.
In layman’s language, The Last Children of Tokyo is a Japanese novel with references to octopuses, tatami mats and dragonflies. The book naturally emphasizes memory and everyday objects, the likes of bread and shoes, to reveal specific insights. The author delights in both descriptions and observations hence creating a plot that’s both captivating and satisfying. However, it’s important to note that The Last Children of Tokyo is a more contemplative novella rather than a story filled with character insights and action.

Upon its publication, The Last Children of Tokyo received critical reception, with Kirkus Reviews terming it as an impactful novel written by a surrealist master. John Self of the Guardian referred to the book as a “mini-epic of family drama, eco-terror and speculative fiction”. Paruls Seghal of the New York Times referred to Yoko Tawada as a great disciple of Kafka, sharing some of Kafka’s preoccupations which are the more prosaic mission that mirrors reality. The book was published under the title The Emissary in the United States and won the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Yōko Tawada

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