The emissary

Yōko Tawada, 1960-

Book - 2018

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.

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FICTION/Tawada, Yko
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Subjects
Genres
Dystopias
Dystopian fiction
Published
New York : New Directions 2018.
Language
English
Japanese
Physical Description
138 pages ; 16 cm
ISBN
9780811227629
0811227626
Main Author
Yōko Tawada, 1960- (author)
Other Authors
Margaret Mitsutani (translator)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Tawada (Memoirs of a Polar Bear, 2016) offers an airily beautiful dystopian novella about mortality. After a disaster, Japan isolates itself from the rest of the world in the hope of containing the fallout. In this post-disaster Japan, the elderly are strong and sprightly, cursed with a long life of caring for a generation of feeble great-grandchildren, born with grey hair, weak joints, and poor constitutions. Yoshiro cares for his great-grandson Mumei, whose mouth bleeds when he eats and whose knock-knees make walking near impossible. Yet as Yoshiro's heart breaks over Mumei's waning health, his spirit is uplifted by the child's inability to feel self-pity or pessimism and his unyielding hope and ageless wisdom.Tawada's quirky style and ability to jump from realism to abstraction manages to both chastise humanity for the path we are taking towards destruction and look hopefully toward an unknown future. This may be a short read, but Tawada's disciplined conservation of words makes it all the more powerful. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Japanese-born, Germany-based Tawada (Memoirs of a Polar Bear) writes facilely in both languages and creates incomparable award-winning fiction that defies easy labels. Tawada's latest in translation (smoothly rendered by Mitsutani, who also translated one of Tawada's earliest works, the three-storied The Bridegroom Was a Dog) introduces a symbiotically bonded duo who are a century apart in age. At almost 108, Yoshiro still jogs every morning for half an hour—with a rented dog. His reason for (still) living is Mumei, his daughter's son's son—to get him up, dressed, mandarin-juiced, out the door to practice walking a few steps, then biked the rest of the way to his elementary school. In this alternate future, everything—soil, sky, oceans—is potentially poisoned, most animals have disappeared, and even the children face extinction. Only the elderly seems to have long, long life—perhaps more curse than blessing as they bear the responsibility for being guardians to fragile, weakened new generations unprepared for survival. And yet despite his seemingly truncated prognosis, Mumei's outlook remains full of insight and charm. VERDICT Blending fairy tale, dystopian warning, peculiar mystery, cultural critique, and multigenerational family saga, Tawada's latest literary, linguistic mélange should satiate even the most discerning international fiction aficionados.—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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. (Mar.) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In Japan, which has cut itself off from the world after suffering a massive irreparable disaster, Yoshiro cares for his grandson, Mumei, a strangely wonderful boy and ancient soul whom he believes is a beacon of hope for the world in this time of darkness. Original.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

In a post-disaster Japan cut off from the rest of the world, in which children are so weak as to barely be able to walk and only the elderly have any energy, young Mumei and his great-grandfather, Yoshiro, carry on their day-to-day routine.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Library JournalYoko 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”

Review by Publisher Summary 4

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.”The Emissary