The Emissary – Yoko Tawada
March 13, 2019 § 4 Comments
First published in Japanese in 2014
Translated into English by Margaret Mitsutani in 2018
Mumei is a young child who lives with his great-grandfather, Yoshiro, in a Japan that none of us today would recognise. Yoshiro goes to the Rent-A-Dog place every day to get a dog to run with, while his great-grandson, unable to walk or do much without him, waits patiently for him to return home, so that they can prepare for school.
In this world, it’s the young that are weak, sickly, and dying. The elderly appear to have somehow found the secrets to longevity and immortality. They even have different phrases to differentiate them: “young elderly” for those who are in their seventies and eighties, and “middle-aged elderly” for those who are well into their nineties. It reminded me of how we have different phrases for the young today: infant, toddler, tween, teenager, young adult.
Early on in the book (page 10), we are shown just what the world has become. Mumei asks Yoshiro if they can get some paint for the walls.
“We can paint them blue, like the sky. With pictures of clouds, and birds, too”
“You want to have a picnic indoors?”
“Well, we can’t have one outside, can we?”
So matter-of-fact, as if a passing remark by the young child, but it stabs right into Yoshiro’s chest, the fact that his great-grandson will never know the joys of spending time in and getting to know Mother Nature.
I am, to be entirely honest, a little at a loss for words in terms of talking, or writing, about this book. The nearest word I can come up with that rather sums up my feelings, is “strange”. I found it difficult to immerse myself into the story, right from the start, because there was a layer of “strangeness” to it that threw me off balance. It got slightly better as I got to know the world a little better, though.
However, and I am rather regretful of this, perhaps I did the book a disservice when I stopped halfway through it, to only finish it the next day. The novella is short enough (at only 138 pages) that I’m sure I could have finished in one sitting, if only I had started the book a little earlier in the day.
I believe that all books have and emit some sort of a frequency, and there is an internal antennae of sorts within each of us that we use to receive and internalise these frequency transmissions when we read. It had taken me some time and effort to tune, and fine-tune, my internal antennae to the frequency level that The Emissary was giving off, and when I stopped for the night, the tuning just went straight out the window.
Otherwise, I believe the book would have resonated a little more. It’s a gentle sort of buzzing, very unlike many of the books that I’ve read. In fact, it almost feels like there’s TWO layers of buzzing, one decidedly lower than the other, almost out of range, but ever so present, all throughout the novella.
Read as part of Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 12.