Scattered All Over The Earth by Yoko Towada (translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani) for Women In Translation Month…sadly, I abandoned it.

Scattered All Over the Earth has a label on it reading “Science Fiction.” But, I wonder how accurate that classification is. Consider these quotes, which seem entirely possible:

…since China has stopped exporting goods, America must produce all its daily necessities domestically, but no one there knows how to sew anymore. This being the case, they’re desperately trying to recruit immigrants who can speak English and are good with their hands. Europe, on the other hand, has developed a comprehensive welfare system that covers everyone, including immigrants, but with national budgets running low, they would rather have all the foreigners who can speak English move to America.

(p. 43)

In the beginning of this novel, Knut, Hiruko, and Akash go to dine in an Indian restaurant, which serves pizza, before visiting the Umami Festival held at the Karl Marx House in Germany.

Knut is studying linguistics; Akash is a Comparative Cultures major. He is also transitioning from male to female. “So you can change your sex, but not your caste,” Knut says to him. Her.

“That’s right,” I (Akash) said a little flustered. “Our bodies are always changing from moment to moment. In these baths (in Trier) the ancient Romans surely felt that. They’d have unwanted body hair plucked away, get their hair and nails cut, enjoy a massage to loosen their muscles. The body changes when we sweat in the sauna or drink water. And that’s not all. Even our brains change sex every second – depending on the book we’re reading, we become men or women.”

p. 57

Yet some of the points of view are disconcertingly accurate. Here is one from a character named Nora:

Just at that time, I was reading a book in which contemporary society was compared to a multi-tenant building. The tenants are not bound together by common ideals. While they share a desire to protect the building from fire, the inner sufferings of other tenants mean nothing to them. Nor do they care about equality or human rights. Basic principles the state once held in esteem have broken down, so that even if a neighbor is covered in urine or feces, as long as one’s home doesn’t smell, one doesn’t interfere.

(p. 68)

While I made it almost halfway through, I must admit to defeat: I lost interest at page 90 of 219. The insights are profound, and the future they point to almost terrifying (what if everyone stays inside and just orders what they need through the internet?), but it felt repetitive. Perhaps you will fare better than I, but Scattered All Over the Earth was ultimately not for me.

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

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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.