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“The Emissary” by Yoko Tawada

“The Emissary” by Yoko Tawada


Tawada is an exophony writer who composes works both in German and Japanese. This story was awarded the National Book Award in 2018.


The story unfolds itself in a deserted Japan, where foreign languages are forbidden to use and Japan is closed to the outside world. The protagonist, Mumei, which means “no name” is a teenager who is born so weak physically. He represents hope and is chosen as an emissary.


What stands out in this story is the relationship between him and his great-grandfather (Yoshiro), who is over 100 years old and a writer. As opposed to Mumei’s inherently weak body, Yoshiro has a stout body which enables him to work continuously for Mumei. Their bond is so strong that they are almost inseparable. It would be difficult not to be touched by his dedication to Mumei.


Another notable point is the description of the language. Vocabulary disappears gradually. Throughout the story, you are made to think about the language and its significance and fragility, of which Tawada is always acutely conscious.


Since today marks the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which partly prompted Tawada to write this story, it is worth another read and attention.


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