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Yoshiro thinks he might never die. A hundred years old and counting, he is one of Japan's many 'old-elderly'; men and women who remember a time before the air and the sea were poisoned, before terrible catastrophe prompted Japan to shut itself off from the rest of the world. He may live for decades yet, but he knows his beloved great-grandson - born frail and prone to sick Yoshiro thinks he might never die. A hundred years old and counting, he is one of Japan's many 'old-elderly'; men and women who remember a time before the air and the sea were poisoned, before terrible catastrophe prompted Japan to shut itself off from the rest of the world. He may live for decades yet, but he knows his beloved great-grandson - born frail and prone to sickness - might not survive to adulthood. Day after day, it takes all of Yoshiro's sagacity to keep Mumei alive. As hopes for Japan's youngest generation fade, a secretive organisation embarks on an audacious plan to find a cure - might Yoshiro's great-grandson be the key to saving the last children of Tokyo?


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Yoshiro thinks he might never die. A hundred years old and counting, he is one of Japan's many 'old-elderly'; men and women who remember a time before the air and the sea were poisoned, before terrible catastrophe prompted Japan to shut itself off from the rest of the world. He may live for decades yet, but he knows his beloved great-grandson - born frail and prone to sick Yoshiro thinks he might never die. A hundred years old and counting, he is one of Japan's many 'old-elderly'; men and women who remember a time before the air and the sea were poisoned, before terrible catastrophe prompted Japan to shut itself off from the rest of the world. He may live for decades yet, but he knows his beloved great-grandson - born frail and prone to sickness - might not survive to adulthood. Day after day, it takes all of Yoshiro's sagacity to keep Mumei alive. As hopes for Japan's youngest generation fade, a secretive organisation embarks on an audacious plan to find a cure - might Yoshiro's great-grandson be the key to saving the last children of Tokyo?

30 review for The Last Children of Tokyo

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Short, strange, and whimsical, The Emissary tracks Mumei, a sickly child, and his great-grandfather Yoshiro as the pair wanders about post-apocalyptic Tokyo. An environmental catastrophe has left Japan with immortal elders and weak youths, and prompted the nation to sequester itself from the rest of the world. In delicate and ethereal prose, the author captures the loneliness of Mumei and Yoshiro’s daily routines, and describes the changes in their country’s customs since the time of ecological Short, strange, and whimsical, The Emissary tracks Mumei, a sickly child, and his great-grandfather Yoshiro as the pair wanders about post-apocalyptic Tokyo. An environmental catastrophe has left Japan with immortal elders and weak youths, and prompted the nation to sequester itself from the rest of the world. In delicate and ethereal prose, the author captures the loneliness of Mumei and Yoshiro’s daily routines, and describes the changes in their country’s customs since the time of ecological ruin. The serenity of the novella is occasionally punctured by flashes of trauma or fury. Readers searching for a well-structured story will be disappointed, but Tawada’s style is mesmerizing.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Henk

    Full of metaphors and unexplained reversions of normal society, this book felt more as a setup to something than a finished end product - 1.5 star We follow Yoshiro and his great grandson Mumei, who has many physical disabilities being one of the The Last Children of Tokyo in this post apocalyptic novella. After an unnamed cataclysm Japan is thrown back at itself and the references to shinto, buddhism and Japanese myths and folktales are abundant. Also language is closed off from the outside wor Full of metaphors and unexplained reversions of normal society, this book felt more as a setup to something than a finished end product - 1.5 star We follow Yoshiro and his great grandson Mumei, who has many physical disabilities being one of the The Last Children of Tokyo in this post apocalyptic novella. After an unnamed cataclysm Japan is thrown back at itself and the references to shinto, buddhism and Japanese myths and folktales are abundant. Also language is closed off from the outside world and changes in isolation, with foreign words disappearing and kanji changing meaning. Interestingly enough this is also an important topic in a book of another Japanese author: The Memory Police that was shortlisted for the International Bookerprize 2020. The pacing in this book is peculiar. We have 140 pages of basically an aging man bringing his sick great grandchild to school and then suddenly, with 30 pages to go, there is a time jump of around 7 years and some semblance of action. Meanwhile characters don’t really get into focus, Mumei seems saintlike in his acceptance of the situation while Yoshiro is a sort of walking Wikipedia article. Mood and atmosphere is certainly present, an interesting world and pretty images is not the problem. However I do feel Yōko Tawada takes on a lot for such a short book: aging, nationalistic isolation and environmental collapse. Even the sidewalks in this world need to be transformed to unbreakable glass slabs instead of moving the actual story along. There are transformations from male into female (hello Orlando!) and so much exposition on the various changes after the mysterious calamity. We have internet down, so now robotized pigeons (because GPS is apparently still a thing?) instead of email. There is so much going on in the setting that the whole story itself feels underdeveloped. Rarely I feel a book would be better being longer, but here it is the other way around The Last Children Of Tokyo (or The Emissary) reads like a long teaser and did not satisfy in my opinion.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    The dentist in this story was 105 years old. ( normal adult age). As a science-fiction book - we immediately suspend belief... we learn this generation has pretty much stopped dying. A young boy Mumei loves going to the dentist - sitting in the big chair and listening to the dentist speak to him. Mumei tells the dentist he likes worms much more than milk. The dentist then goes into a monologue about the brain and the ‘other brain’ - meaning the intestines. I immediately thought about Mary Roach’ The dentist in this story was 105 years old. ( normal adult age). As a science-fiction book - we immediately suspend belief... we learn this generation has pretty much stopped dying. A young boy Mumei loves going to the dentist - sitting in the big chair and listening to the dentist speak to him. Mumei tells the dentist he likes worms much more than milk. The dentist then goes into a monologue about the brain and the ‘other brain’ - meaning the intestines. I immediately thought about Mary Roach’s book “Gulp”. I found it interesting that this ‘is’ supposed to be a futuristic science fiction book - But from my nutritional reading today there’s nothing futuristic at all about what the author said about the ‘brain-of-the-intestine’, reflecting the condition of a persons physical health being more accurate than the upper brain itself. The author’s futuristic knowledge- has turned out to be quite truthful according to medical research today. Medical scientists have already proven that the people’s condition of the intestines affects the health of many other vital organs in our body....but I enjoyed this part of the story... it was totally engaging. I like the interaction between this impressionable young boy and his intrigue with this dentist. I enjoy Japanese books. I expect their stories to be ‘different’. I don’t expect to understand everything ...( which I didn’t in this slim book), and I liked some parts more than others - rather understood some parts more than others..... but I enjoyed the the characters, and the whimsical prose. Mumei - sweet - wise - and fragile is the great-great grandson of Yoshiro - who, like the dentist, is also over 100 years old. This story mostly follows their relationship. We get to look at what is happening to the younger generation. We can see how much they have lost. I thought about the younger generation today -and how much more challenging it is for many of them today to ‘thrive’ financially- than in generations past. Everything seems harder ( a shrinking society on many levels) The under-current atmosphere in this story was frightening, sinister, and mysterious, but the storytelling relationships between the characters were charming & sweet. This book looks at morality: ...differently than Atul Gawande’s book, ( totally different style), than “Being Mortal”.... But in both books we can’t help but think about aging, frailty, death, one’s declining years, and a life with meaning. Compelling thoughts linger..... The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor meltdown in 2011... was a major accident by the international atomic Energy Agency. This national trauma was inspire by the Yoko Tawada in writing this story. Her book gives us a bleak look at a diminished world. 3.7 stars

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cheri

    !! NOW AVAILABLE !! ”For an old man like Yoshiro, time after death no longer existed. The aged could not die; along with the gift of everlasting life, they were burdened with terrible task of watching their great-grandchildren die.” Set in the Japan of the future, this story focuses on Yoshiro and his great-grandson, Mumei. What has transpired in the past is vaguely touched on, but never really fully explained. Countries are no longer in communication with one another - the whole world has chang !! NOW AVAILABLE !! ”For an old man like Yoshiro, time after death no longer existed. The aged could not die; along with the gift of everlasting life, they were burdened with terrible task of watching their great-grandchildren die.” Set in the Japan of the future, this story focuses on Yoshiro and his great-grandson, Mumei. What has transpired in the past is vaguely touched on, but never really fully explained. Countries are no longer in communication with one another - the whole world has changed. The older generation can’t die, the younger generations struggle to thrive. ”As a child he had assumed the goal of medicine was to keep bodies alive forever; he had never considered the pain of not being able to die.” There are almost no animals; there are dogs which one can rent for a run, a “lope.” An end-of-the-world scenario. I can’t say that I ‘loved’ this, or even ‘enjoyed’ reading it. It seemed disjointed, which seemed to be intentional - but it didn’t make it more or less enjoyable even thinking that was a possibility. It had me contemplating what her message was, and there were some moments where I recognized the message she was trying to relay. Commentaries on the overly-politically-correct attempts to please all. The renaming of holidays to achieve this. ”’Labor Day’ became ‘Being Alive is Enough Day.’” I’m not the target audience for this, but I’m also not sure who is. It felt as though the author wrote this only for her own entertainment, that it wasn’t really meant to be enjoyed or even necessarily appreciated by others, just a message to be conveyed. Pub Date: 24 APR 2018 Many thanks for the ARC provided by New Directions / W.W. Norton & Company

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Salesses

    I have no idea what I just read but I enjoyed reading it

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This is a strange short novel, a near future Japan that has once again shut itself off from the world, after environmental issues have caused the elderly to live longer while the children seem unsustainable. To me this novel connects to The Vegetarian by Han Kang and Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. The strangeness, the environmental impact causing a change in behavior, the inability the humans in the stories have to change what feels inevitable.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    Now - under the better US English title The Emissary - winner of the first National Book Award for translated literature. The aged could not die; along with the gift of everlasting life, they were burdened with terrible task of watching their great-grandchildren die. The Japanese novelist Yōko Tawada writes, unusually in both German and Japanese. Her previous novel in English translation, Memoirs of a Polar Bear, rendered from the German by the excellent Susan Bernofsky. featured strongly in award Now - under the better US English title The Emissary - winner of the first National Book Award for translated literature. The aged could not die; along with the gift of everlasting life, they were burdened with terrible task of watching their great-grandchildren die. The Japanese novelist Yōko Tawada writes, unusually in both German and Japanese. Her previous novel in English translation, Memoirs of a Polar Bear, rendered from the German by the excellent Susan Bernofsky. featured strongly in awards: winning the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, at the time of this review shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize, and was also longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award Longlist, and a nominee for the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize. The Emissary (my preferred English language title - see below) is from a Japanese language original, but the translation by Margaret Mitsutani (who translated Kenzaburō Ōe's An Echo of Heaven as well as a previous Tawada novel) is of an equally high standard. 'Still in his blue silk pyjamas, Mumei sat with his bottom flat on the tatami. Perhaps it was his head, much too large for his slender long neck, that made him look like a baby bird. Hairs fine as silk threads stuck to his scalp, damp with sweat. His eyes nearly shut, he moved his head as if searching the air, trying to catch on his tympanic membrane the scraping of footsteps on gravel. The footsteps grew louder, then stopped. The sliding door rattled like a freight train, and as Mumei opened up his eyes, morning light, yellow as melted dandelions, poured in. The boy threw back his shoulders, puffed out his chest and stuck out both his arms like a bird spreading its wings.' The Emissary tells the story of a centenarian Yoshiro and his great-grandson Mumei, set in a near-future Japan. A combination of both natural disaster, an earthquake with echoes of that in Saramago's The Stone Raft which has moved the islands of Japan further from the Asian mainland, and unspecified man-made ecological catastrophe's has led to a world rather different to ours today. The elderly generation seem to be immortal (or at least none have died) while in contrast the young are weak and deformed - typically wheelchair bound by their mid-teens and with short lifespans. 'The baker was “young elderly,” a phrase that had once cracked people up but was now standard usage. People weren’t even called “middle-aged elderly” nowadays until they were well into their nineties, and the baker was barely into his late seventies. ... The names of some of the older holidays were changed: “Respect for the Aged Day” became “Encouragement for the Aged Day,” while “Children’s Day ” was now “Apologize to the Children Day”; “Sports Day” was changed to “Body Day” to avoid upsetting children who were not growing up big and strong. ... A popular manga entitled A Message from the Sea Breeze , about a foot messenger with the legs of a Japanese antelope and a map of every town in the country in his head, inspired lots of children to dream of becoming foot messengers when they grew up, though the general deterioration in physical strength among the young would make that impossible — in the near future, young people would probably all work in offices and physical labor would be left to the elderly. Don't expect from the novel any rationale for how this all works. This is speculative fiction but in the literary rather than genre sense where, for good or ill (good in my view), the focus in not on creation of a coherent world but rather a metaphorical literary device. Similarly the perspective is narrowed to that of a few characters - we get little view of the issues in wider society (rather like Saramago's Blindness versus his later sequel of sorts Seeing). Indeed rather quirky metaphors are par for the course in the novel: 'The dentist explained that diarrhea is the intestines ’ method of getting rid of whatever they decide is poisonous as quickly and efficiently as possible. The brain in the head is well known, the dentist went on, but the intestines are actually another brain, and when these two brains disagree the intestines always get the upper hand. This is why the brain is sometimes called the Upper House, and the intestines the Lower House. Because Lower House elections are held often, it is generally believed that it’s the Lower House that truly reflects shifts in public opinion. In the same way, because the contents of the intestines are constantly changing, the intestines reflect a person’s physical condition more accurately than the brain. dietary issues being a key concern in this world, both the fragile digestive system of the young and the contamination of the food supply, Mumei's teeth also suffering from calcium deficiency. "According to one theory, it’s best to get your calcium from the bones of fish and animals. But they have to be from before the earth became irreversibly contaminated. So some people say we should dig way, way down underground to find dinosaur bones. In Hokkaido there are already shops that sell powder from ground Naumann Mammoth bones they’ve dug up there.” In this new world, Japan has reverted to Edo-era isolationism - one of the novel's seeming (and prescient - this was published in 2014) themes - being the rise of political nationalism. As Yoshido tries to explain: '“Every country has serious problems, so to keep those problems from spreading all around the world, they decided that each country should solve its own problems by itself. Remember when I took you to the Showa-Heisei Museum? All the rooms were separated by steel doors, so if a fire starts in one room it can’t spread to the next one.” “It is better that way?” “I don’t know if it’s better or not. But at least this way there’s less danger of Japanese companies making money off the poor people living in other countries. And there are probably fewer chances for foreign companies to make money from the crisis we’re having here in Japan, too.” Mumei looked puzzled, as if maybe he sort of understood, but not quite. Yoshiro was always careful not to tell him that he didn’t really support Japan’s isolation policy.' Language is key to the novel including the deliberate erasure of foreign, particularly English, loan words. 'The ability to understand even a little English was evidence of old age. As studying English was now prohibited, young people didn’t know even simple words like on and off. It was okay to study other languages such as Tagalog, German, Swahili, or Czechoslovakian.' Leading to some new words.... 'Long ago , this sort of purposeless running had been referred to as jogging, but with foreign words falling out of use, it was 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.' and deliberately encouraged misreadings 'The Tengu Company was based in Iwate Prefecture, and inside each shoe Iwate was written in India ink with a brush, followed by the kana for ma and de. * The younger generation, who no longer studied English, interpreted the “made” on old “Made in Japan” labels in their own way.' with a footnote: 'The Japanese word made (pronounced mah-day) means “to” or “until,” so Iwate made would mean “to Iwate.”' Others refers to Chinese symbols: 'Children without parents had long since ceased to be called “orphans”; they were now referred to as doku ritsu jido, “independent children.” Because the Chinese character for doku looks like a dog separated from the pack who survives by attaching itself to a human being and never leaving his side, Yoshiro had never felt comfortable with the phrase.' But in a world where the young have no knowledge of non-Japanese culture, Mumei is special - and hence perhaps suitable to be an emissary: 'Where could the boy have picked up such a foreign-sounding sentence, when books — even picture books — were no longer being translated?' The translation issues indeed start with the title. The Japanese word used for Emissary is phonetically kentôshi, literally "ambassadors dispatched to Tang' (per https://wiki.samurai-archives.com/ind...) and, in the story, an idea develops to send one of the young people as a emissary to China. That word is normally written 遣唐使 but Tawada has rendered her title in different characters 献灯使, which carries a literal implication of 'bearer of light.' The subtle change is a little lost in the English-US title; but at least it preserves a key part of the sense - bizzarely the English-UK version of the novel has gone for The Last Children of Tokyo, which is perhaps more attention grabbing and representative of the story, but not what the original was called at all. The next arises in the first line. In Japanese Mumei's name is written 無名 which could be literally rendered 'no name', but is usually used for unknown/anonymous (as in for example 無名 戦士の墓 - 'Tomb of the Unknown Soldier'.) The English reader, as pointed out in the excellent Complete Review review (http://www.complete-review.com/review...), has to wait until about halfway through for his great-grandfather to explain the, deliberate, choice of name while one assumes readers of the original would immediately have been alert to the nuance. But otherwise Mitsutani copes very well, resorting to footnotes only twice (once mentioned above) and using a good blend of direct translation, adaption and judicious inclusion of untranslated (but phonetically rendered) words, even once some Japanese characters. Overall: The writing in the novel is excellent, although it did feel that for a Western audience it is packaged to tick the post-Murakami quirky and twee box. And the translation copes brilliantly with many tricky issues. And for such a short novel it manages to touch on three key mega-trends - the ageing Japanese population, isolationist nationalism and environmental degradation. But ultimately this fell between the two stools of a short-story and a fully-realised novel, too long to be the former but much too under-developed to be the latter. Worthwhile but a little unsatisfying - 3 stars. Thanks to Netgalley / Portabello for the ARC. A recommended review: https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/b...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    With children like this having children of their own, it was no wonder the world was full of children. pg. 74 Great little book (138 pages), I've read it before and it is a book I really enjoy. Sometimes I find it difficult to review great books. I don't know what to say except "This is SO good!" and "You should read it." Yōko Tawada is a genius, frankly, and this book showcases that and her amazing writing style. It takes place in the future: children are born sickly, are unable to walk by age 15, With children like this having children of their own, it was no wonder the world was full of children. pg. 74 Great little book (138 pages), I've read it before and it is a book I really enjoy. Sometimes I find it difficult to review great books. I don't know what to say except "This is SO good!" and "You should read it." Yōko Tawada is a genius, frankly, and this book showcases that and her amazing writing style. It takes place in the future: children are born sickly, are unable to walk by age 15, are weak, frail, and need constant care. Adults are the strong ones, especially the elderly, who get older and older without falling sick or getting weak. People are living into their 100s (109, 115) with no disease or weakening. The new generation isn't so lucky. The elderly are spry - running, working hard, long days, and raising their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As a result of "the contamination," Japan has isolated itself, walled itself off from the outside world. So has almost every other country. It's 'for protection.' But not every Japanese person agrees with the government's isolationist policies. The book focuses on Yoshiro, who is raising up his great-grandson. It devastates him to see his weak and suffering great-grandson, but the boy is cheerful and never complains. He always tries to cheer up his great-grandpa, who is one of the people who remembers how things were in the before-times. It's clear that Yōko Tawada probably wrote this in a response to Fukushima Daiichi, but this is actually perfect reading for a pandemic. It fits in very nicely with what's going on now, in 2020. Yōko Tawada's genius is in a.) her amazing writing skillz. She puts words together beautifully and makes reading a joy. And in b.) her ideas and concepts about the future and where things might end up. She's not writing a satire, but she's brushing up against one: exhibiting ideas in the vein of George Orwell or William Gibson. We never truly know what the future might hold, and things we never foresee can one day become everyday mundane facts of life. Which this Covid-19 pandemic illustrates PERFECTLY and this chilling and tantalizing concept is captured in this novel. Yoshiro is living in a future he never could have imagined as a child or a teenager. "Years ago when I used to go to New York to sell my knives it didn't seem far at all - distance is odd that way." His voice dropped to a raspy whisper on "New York." There was a strange new law against saying the names of foreign cities out loud, and although no one had been prosecuted for breaking it yet, all the same people were very being careful. Nothing is more frightening than a law that has never been enforced. When the authorities want to throw someone in jail, all they have to do is suddenly arrest him for breaking a law that no one has bothered to obey yet. pg. 30 Yōko Tawada is smart. The book is smart. I recommend reading it. The only drawback here is that it is not a traditionally plotted book. This book does not have a real conclusion or a true plot. Instead, it showcases a few days in this incredible future. People who enjoy a traditional story arc are not going to be happy with this one. While it wasn't clear whether or not Yoshiro's generation would really have to live forever, for the time being they had definitely been robbed of death. Perhaps when their bodies had reached the end, even their fingers and toes worn down to nothing, their minds would hang on, refusing to shut down, writhing still inside immobile flesh. pg. 93 TL;DR I recommend this brilliant little book. Whether you stay for Yōko Tawada's beautiful writing or her thought-provoking ideas about the world around her and its possible future - there will be something for you to enjoy here. The only off-putting thing for some readers may be the book's lack of a traditional 'plot.' The book is worth reading and I encourage everyone to give Yōko Tawada's work a chance. You can get lost in this short, consuming, futuristic little novel. It's fascinating and you don't only have to rely on Yōko Tawada's ideas to keep you interested - she also writes skillfully. NAMES IN THIS BOOK (view spoiler)[ Mumei m Yoshiro m Hildegard f Amana f Tomo m Marika f Tsuyukusa f Suiren f Nemoto f Yonatani m Yasukawamaru m Michiru f Karo f Yanagi m Tatsugoro m Yanagi m Kama f Yonatan m Yonatani f (hide spoiler)] ETA: UPDATE 01/06/21 "Years ago when I used to go to New York to sell my knives it didn't seem far at all - distance is odd that way." His voice dropped to a raspy whisper on "New York." There was a strange new law against saying the names of foreign cities out loud, and although no one had been prosecuted for breaking it yet, all the same people were very being careful. Nothing is more frightening than a law that has never been enforced. When the authorities want to throw someone in jail, all they have to do is suddenly arrest him for breaking a law that no one has bothered to obey yet. pg. 30 Duterte retroactively enforcing a law against Maria Ressa. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/14/bu...

  9. 4 out of 5

    lark benobi

    The Emissary has a layer of whimsy that contradicts the horrors of the post-apocalyptic story it tells. This contradiction is compelling, but also distancing. Take away the whimsy and what's left reminds me of Ibuse's Black Rain, the story of a young woman's slow death from radiation poisoning following the bombing of Hiroshima, as told through her uncle's diaries. Both novels tell the story of a young person with no future, and of a civilization with no hope. They both beautifully capture the s The Emissary has a layer of whimsy that contradicts the horrors of the post-apocalyptic story it tells. This contradiction is compelling, but also distancing. Take away the whimsy and what's left reminds me of Ibuse's Black Rain, the story of a young woman's slow death from radiation poisoning following the bombing of Hiroshima, as told through her uncle's diaries. Both novels tell the story of a young person with no future, and of a civilization with no hope. They both beautifully capture the stoic-with-a-smile fatalism of Japanese culture, too, where people honor their obligations even in the most apocalyptic circumstances. But Ibuse's novel is almost unbearably truthful and intimate, whereas Tawada's has a sheen of light-hearted detachment. Ibuse's novel is unforgettable, and Tawada's novel never became more than a what-if exercise: interesting to read, full of fascinating detail about one possible future, but lacking any deeper follow-through to make it memorable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    ~Jo~

    It became apparent rather early on, that I was going to have a profound difficulty in immersing myself in this story. The main issue that caused this, was the disjointed plot. There really was NO plot, and just when I thought one was starting up, it fell flat, and I was sitting there rolling my eyes. The back cover I feel was misleading. I was promised to be enchanted, and unsettled, and frankly, I was neither of these. I was glad, however, once I had finished reading the final page. I mean, wha It became apparent rather early on, that I was going to have a profound difficulty in immersing myself in this story. The main issue that caused this, was the disjointed plot. There really was NO plot, and just when I thought one was starting up, it fell flat, and I was sitting there rolling my eyes. The back cover I feel was misleading. I was promised to be enchanted, and unsettled, and frankly, I was neither of these. I was glad, however, once I had finished reading the final page. I mean, what was this book supposed to be about? There was a complete lack of character development, which obviously left me not really caring about them, and then we return to that odd, disjointed plot again, which was exasperating as hell. There were some sparsely written sentences in here, that made me raise an eyebrow, and think "Hmm, that was an interesting sentence" but unfortunately, the sentence made little impact on me, because my mind was so exhausted attempting to figure out just what was going on. I do feel this book could have had the potential to be something better than this, but instead I've finished this feeling disappointed and washed-out.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Maxwell

    What a strange little book. It revolves around a man and his great-grandson. Presumably some sort of cataclysmic event has occurred that has caused Japan to shut itself away from the outside world. Now the elderly are living for longer—upwards of 100 years—while youth are dying at a young age and becoming quite frail. Basically this just chronicles a little bit of the two main characters' lives amidst these new circumstances. It was intriguing and quite easy to read, but didn't really leave me w What a strange little book. It revolves around a man and his great-grandson. Presumably some sort of cataclysmic event has occurred that has caused Japan to shut itself away from the outside world. Now the elderly are living for longer—upwards of 100 years—while youth are dying at a young age and becoming quite frail. Basically this just chronicles a little bit of the two main characters' lives amidst these new circumstances. It was intriguing and quite easy to read, but didn't really leave me with much. As a reviewer in the New York Times said: "Tawada seems content to evoke mood, to polish her sentences to a high sheen. Her language has never been so arresting. But as Virginia Woolf wrote, novels are composed of paragraphs, not sentences. “The Emissary” is stalled there, at the level of a flickering brilliance that never kindles into more. From a writer with Tawada’s gifts, mere beauty can be a disappointment." I'd have to agree; but maybe this just isn't the place to start in Tawada's oeurve. I'm willing to give her a second go nonetheless.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    The Last Children of Tokyo (UK title); The Emissary (US title) A curious blend of dystopia and utopia, extrapolating rather obviously from recent events and trends, set in a contaminated future Japan in which the elderly are super-fit and support everyone, and children plagued by health problems. In its world, most countries are isolationist. For its subject, it has an unusually peaceful and quirky tone and atmosphere, one which may be familiar from light Japanese literary fiction. Many details o The Last Children of Tokyo (UK title); The Emissary (US title) A curious blend of dystopia and utopia, extrapolating rather obviously from recent events and trends, set in a contaminated future Japan in which the elderly are super-fit and support everyone, and children plagued by health problems. In its world, most countries are isolationist. For its subject, it has an unusually peaceful and quirky tone and atmosphere, one which may be familiar from light Japanese literary fiction. Many details of its world-building do not fit together logically, and are far from hard SF - but it makes a refreshing change from the standard projections of future technology and society in scenarios of environmental degeneration, which become hackneyed once you have read enough of them, and which are often American, or American-influenced. I was especially alert to the material and world-building aspects of Tawada's novel because recently, I attempted to plan a story starting in 2095; I had wanted to push past the sometimes lazy received wisdom of the usual American collapsitarian guys, and I ideally wanted to be able to have a logical story behind every object around my characters and everything they knew and thought. Where and when was this made, with materials from where and how did it reach them, or how has it survived? Where did they learn what they know? What influences their words and accents? What communications or media reach them and by what logistical and material means? How would social relations develop with and without various items, taking into account that this is also development from the present, not just a reversion to the past? It was overwhelming to try and work out such stuff along with questioning a lot of material I'd previously read, and I felt a surprising sense of relief at some of the cop-outs involved in Tawada's strangely cosy dystopia, in which it's not terribly clear how the economy works, and in where a Japan that apparently does not import anything from abroad nevertheless has solar powered items (although not in vast numbers), and advanced medical care. There's also what seems to be an entirely new type of trade, in which some countries (including South Africa and India - two of the BRICS group, you may notice) export language, but it's never explained what this entails. The novel's world attains a combination of technology usages which would be particularly desirable to left-leaning environmentalists, via a sleight of hand combining the isolationist policy and a fantastical shift in public opinion and science in which "Electrical appliances had met with disapproval ever since electric current was discovered to cause nervous disorders, numbness in the extremities, and insomnia — a condition generally known as bzzt-bzzt syndrome." (The author evidently recognises how central public demand is for consumer electricals, and that trying to get rid of them with legislation would be incredibly unpopular.) It would have seemed more plausible if this condition only affected the children, who are all very delicate and afflicted with multiple novel medical problems. Or perhaps it's connected to nuclear radiation, which is hinted as the cause of the major disaster in the recent past. But the revolt against electrical machinery seems to be universal, and as a result, the only household appliances are now solar-powered refrigerators (I wonder if Tawada also loves those moments when every machine in the home is switched off apart from the fridge freezer). Almost everything else - other than high-tech disability aids and the remaining, shambolic, public transport - has seen a return to pre-industrial manual technology such as cloth, wood and horse-drawn carts, and it's very common to employ cleaners. (There are many parallels to the appropriate technology movement of the 1970s, which has been having a small revival in recent years.) Manual labour is highly respected, and people such as academics also take turns doing work like cleaning school toilets. Resources such as paper have to be treated carefully and there is no unnecessary consumerist tat, the product of the old "global rat race in which huge corporations turned underground resources into anything they could sell at inhuman speeds while ruthlessly competing to keep the lowest production costs". It is not only different forms of work that are equally respected: the society has abolished the "distinction between useful and useless people" and children are discouraged from using expressions that might even tangentially support it, such as "putting people to a lot of trouble". All the children seem to be treasured by society at large, and by the grandparents and great-grandparents who look after them, and unlike in the real world for all but the very rich with complex medical issues and disabilities, they never have to contend with anyone misunderstanding or disbelieving their problems, or with delays or blocks to accessing any treatments available in their country. The children tend to be calm and good-natured, but rather than this being some sort of stereotype of disabled people as patient martyrs, I see this as relating to the huge difference in stress levels I've seen between disabled people who have to manage on UK and US benefits and other insecure resources, versus those who have comfortable private income or come from countries with the best welfare states, such as an old online friend from Norway. This level of respect and provision on an apparently national scale is a relatively recent phenomenon in recorded human history, but as far as other aspects of the book's society are concerned - the isolationism, the pre-industrial technology and the frugal use of resources - it was no surprise when references to the Edo Period (1603-1868) began to appear more and more frequently. From the first few pages onwards, it had already looked as if the novel was alluding to the Edo, and probably to modern usages of the period, where the Edo is held up as a real-life model of a sustainable society: see for example here, here, here, or here, and more informally in the environmental blogosphere. This page mentions in addition that "Today, the Japanese have an insatiable appetite for all things Edo. This goes deeper than the daily long lines outside the Edo-Tokyo Museum or the very popular historical dramas on TV every Sunday evening." Tawada refers to historically inaccurate usages of the Edo for political ends, when the wise great-grandfather protagonist tries to contradict them: " When Yoshiro submitted an essay entitled “Japan Was Not Isolated” to the newspaper, they refused to publish it. He wrote it to show how strong Japan’s connections to the outside world had been during the Edo period, through the channels of Holland and China, but the newspaper’s official scholar refused to give it his stamp of approval. He decided to hang onto the manuscript until the next time a magazine asked him for a contribution, yet strangely enough, all those requests from magazines dried up completely after that." The allusions to the Edo may be clear, and the contaminated land and health effects strongly suggest radiation (not to mention the blurb's mention of Fukushima) but exactly how and why things became this way is never really explained, and the government is shadowy and faceless - no one is quite sure where it is based any more, and no politicians are ever named, although there are allusions to capricious changes, and policies restricting freedom of speech on certain topics, or the ability to settle outside your home region. This vagueness often reminded me of another odd and not altogether logical literary dystopia, J by Howard Jacobson. However the repressions and changes rarely seem as frightening as in J. Other than people being anxious not to mention a few topics, chiefly to do with abroad, society remains mysteriously ordered, peaceful and in a way friendly, for a country which has gone through major upheaval and has next to no visible police - there isn't the suspicion that anyone may denounce you, which stalks fully totalitarian dystopias. (The police are privatised and now mostly concern themselves with their brass bands.) Foreign words are strictly to be avoided (though writing should be in Chinese characters), likewise mannerisms (waving is now up and down, like a maneki neko, not side-to-side), and travel abroad is forbidden. However, a mixed-race school teacher, Mr Yonatani, does not appear to face discrimination. "Though his mother was so attached to the name Yonatan that she wanted to keep it as her own, at a time when having non-Japanese relatives was enough to bring you under suspicion, such a foreign-sounding surname was sure to be a strike against her. She did, in fact, often feel she was being watched. She would come home to find signs of a break-in; even when nothing had been taken, the police would come round to investigate." It's hard to tell what is intentional and what is accidental in the generally cosy and sometimes whimsical style of this book. Sometimes we are told that aspects of Yoshiro's life are unpleasant or sad - and it might sound boring to a reader in their twenties - but his life of enduring good physical healthy, jogging with dogs (rented), trying to get decent fruit from the market, having someone to look after for whom state services provide well, and apparently not having to worry about money sounds pretty pleasant compared with a lot of people's lives now, even if there are a few things he needs to be careful not to say. His great-grandson Mumei has a lot of medical problems, but until late in the book, physical pain and discomfort is only rarely mentioned. Before that they seem like logistical matters, described in such a way that the reader doesn't feel them (nor the physical aspects of helping) - and because most kids have similar problems, and schools always have doctors on hand, he doesn't feel unusual or left out. The way the characters are narrated is strangely unembodied. (After mention of Mumei's digestive problems, I thought another oblique Edo reference might appear - the He-gassen or fart scrolls [N.B. link includes thumbnails of pics which in close up are NSFW], but there was nothing like that whatsoever. Ribaldry isn't a big part of this book) As I found the beginning of Tawada's Memoirs of a Polar Bear *too* embodied, uncomfortably so, it was surprising to find the opposite here. I wasn't sure what the reader was supposed to make of the Emissary scheme. I found myself worrying that the children might not be treated well at the other end - but I'm not sure where that came from. Perhaps because the attitudes and services for them seemed so positive in Japan, and it was easy to imagine things being worse elsewhere, because almost anywhere in the real world, they are. It would be interesting to hear what Japanese readers think of this book, as it is easy to see it as the novel of a writer living abroad. There are passing references to international concerns such as climate change, or pollution leading to spontaneous sex changes in wildlife, and the book presages a shift away from globalisation and towards nationalism (it was first published in 2014). But in terms of Japanese issues, it appears to be referring to those that are well-known internationally, such as Fukushima, the ageing population, young people refusing to carry on traditions, and restrictions on inward immigration - even the early 2010s youth fashion for grey hair - and Yoshiro's descriptions of central Tokyo and come from the memory of a character who has not been there for years. This is a strange little book, and its light approaches to (or outright elision of) a number of serious issues have put off some readers. However, if you are getting bored with the typical cli-fi and environmental decline dystopias, while remaining interested in the general idea - and you aren't too irritated by illogical worldbuilding - this may be an interesting change. (Read & reviewed Feb 2019)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    This story is either a premonition or the bogeyman; you decide. A month before, someone had put up a poster on the wall outside the elementary school: NO ONE SPEAKS OF THE WEATHER ANYMORE OR REVOLUTION EITHER. In bold fancy lettering, it was a take on the famous quotation, WHILE PEOPLE SPEAK ONLY OF THE WEATHER I SPEAK OF REVOLUTION -- but the very next day someone took it down. Disturbing, yet engrossing, Tawada has created this post-apocalyptic tale that is so understated, but drowning in pathos This story is either a premonition or the bogeyman; you decide. A month before, someone had put up a poster on the wall outside the elementary school: NO ONE SPEAKS OF THE WEATHER ANYMORE OR REVOLUTION EITHER. In bold fancy lettering, it was a take on the famous quotation, WHILE PEOPLE SPEAK ONLY OF THE WEATHER I SPEAK OF REVOLUTION -- but the very next day someone took it down. Disturbing, yet engrossing, Tawada has created this post-apocalyptic tale that is so understated, but drowning in pathos. You feel swallowed by it as you read, frozen and helpless as Mumei and Yoshiro's lives play out. "Grown-ups can live if children die," Mumei replied in a singsong voice, "but if grown-ups die, children can't live." Yoshiro fell silent. This is more like 3.5 stars, but I'm rounding up for its excellence as a time capsule. It was much different than I expected from reading the blurb, but I enjoyed it more than my imagined storyline. It may be short, but it packs a powerful punch. Children without parents had long since ceased to be called "orphans"; they were now referred to as doku ritsu jido, "independent children". Because the Chinese character doku looks like a dog separated from the pack who survives by attaching itself to a human being and never leaving its side, Yoshiro had never felt comfortable with the phrase.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Reads & Rambles

    Tawada manages to construct such a truly innovative dystopian future for Japan in such a short space of time. Characters are introduced at natural points in the narrative and the many facets of Tokyo’s new society are revealed to the reader steadily throughout. You never feel like there is a push to relay information even though this world building has to be achieved in just over 100 pages. She makes the unrealistic easily believable with beautiful, gentle prose that sometimes still manages to c Tawada manages to construct such a truly innovative dystopian future for Japan in such a short space of time. Characters are introduced at natural points in the narrative and the many facets of Tokyo’s new society are revealed to the reader steadily throughout. You never feel like there is a push to relay information even though this world building has to be achieved in just over 100 pages. She makes the unrealistic easily believable with beautiful, gentle prose that sometimes still manages to cut like a knife. Masterfully crafted and such a creative, unique vision. I purchased the beautiful paperback for myself, but was also sent an ebook from Portobello through Netgalley in exchange for an honest opinion

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I can never resist a short dystopian fable and devour them like snacks, all in one go. This quite possibly results in my deriving less meaning from them than I could. In this case, I felt myself lacking the linguistic and cultural reference points to appreciate it properly. I quite often find this with Russian literature and sometimes other fiction in translation. There are probably references to the Fukushima disaster in ‘The Last Children of Tokyo’, for instance, although I couldn’t pin them d I can never resist a short dystopian fable and devour them like snacks, all in one go. This quite possibly results in my deriving less meaning from them than I could. In this case, I felt myself lacking the linguistic and cultural reference points to appreciate it properly. I quite often find this with Russian literature and sometimes other fiction in translation. There are probably references to the Fukushima disaster in ‘The Last Children of Tokyo’, for instance, although I couldn’t pin them down. The narrative centres on a hale and hearty centenarian great-grandfather and his delicate and sickly great-grandson. As a consequence of major environmental disaster, future Japan has retreated from the rest the world in an echo of the Edo period. Cutting the country off completely has not addressed the environmental crisis or falling population, so shadowy authorities are considering sending youthful ambassadors overseas. There are many intriguing world-building details, such as privatisation of the government, pervasive gender fluidity, and dismantling of the electric grid. The plot is minimal, however. The reader observes the elderly and energetic Yoshiro painstakingly care of young Mumei, whose delicate body seems unlikely to reach adulthood. Yoshiro also observes that soon it will be unsafe to go outside at all, as well as frequently commenting on food contamination, because the environment continues to deteriorate. Quite a lot of the book’s short length consists of flashbacks centring on the rest of Yoshiro’s family. These are slightly frustrating, as they lack sufficient context to provide any explanation of how the environment, economy, and society collapsed to such an extent. Mumei’s grandparents and parents are depicted as somewhat flighty individuals, while he himself is a calm person apparently unconcerned by mortality. Yoshiro is likewise a peaceable and reliable fellow, albeit afraid for Mumei who can barely survive a short walk. I found the reflections on generation gaps striking: Assuming he had knowledge and wealth to leave to his descendants was mere arrogance, Yoshiro now realised. This life with his great-grandson was about all he could manage. And for that he needed to be flexible, in mind and body, with the courage to doubt what he had believed for over a century. Sloughing off his pride like an old jacket, he’d have to go around in his shirtsleeves. If he was cold, rather than buying a new jacket it would be better to think of ways to grow a coat of fur like a bear’s. He was not really an ‘old man’, but a man who, after living for a century, had become a new species of human being, he thought, clenching his fists again and again. Such minor details are the only signs of anger, fear, and dread in the face of civilisation’s apparent collapse. If children cannot survive, there is no prospect of a future for Japan, yet this remains subtext hidden behind daily routines. I did like the way that the narrative conveys significant changes in society via material details, often of food. By contrast, the relationships between characters are quite ephemeral, except the touching bond between Yoshiro and Mumei. The unsettling generational differences are perhaps the most memorable parts of the book: You could tell the younger relations by their rounded backs, thinning hair, pale faces, and by how slowly their chopsticks moved. Realising their descendants were in such a state because they’d been so feckless made the elderly feel guilty, dampening the festivities. While it wasn’t clear whether or not Yoshiro’s generation would really have to live forever, for the time being they had definitely been robbed of death. Perhaps when their bodies had reached the end, even their fingers and toes worn down to nothing, their minds would hang on, refusing to shut down, writhing still against immobile flesh. ‘The Last Children of Tokyo’ is mysterious, atmospheric, and guarded, although that could in part be due to my lack of familiarity with Japan. While technically apocalyptic in content, it is at heart a quiet tale of an old man and a young child that comes to no firm conclusions about how the generation gap can be bridged. (view spoiler)[The final scenes seem to be Mumei’s hallucinations while he dies of a stroke, foreclosing hope for the future. Rather than showing potential for revival, the narrative is of declining with dignity. Older generations survive so they can witness the results of their greed and destructiveness. Despite the gentle style in which it is told, this is a harsh and bleak story when you think about it. (hide spoiler)]

  16. 4 out of 5

    Helen McClory

    Slow moving, delicate, and sort of quietly devastating. It took me many more days to read than I thought as my attention drifted in and out - but I think some books just need to drip into you like that.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nadine

    A gentle dystopian novel, where a great grandfather lovingly and joyfully raises his feeble but playful, and near beatific great-grandson. Which makes it sound like a tear-jerker, but it's not. There's whimsy, humor and a quiet hopefulness in their world, thanks to the children. Among the charms: old Japanese holidays are reinvented – Children’s Day becomes “Apologize to Children Day”, Labor Day becomes “Being Alive is Enough Day” - and new holidays are democratically voted on, like “Off-line Da A gentle dystopian novel, where a great grandfather lovingly and joyfully raises his feeble but playful, and near beatific great-grandson. Which makes it sound like a tear-jerker, but it's not. There's whimsy, humor and a quiet hopefulness in their world, thanks to the children. Among the charms: old Japanese holidays are reinvented – Children’s Day becomes “Apologize to Children Day”, Labor Day becomes “Being Alive is Enough Day” - and new holidays are democratically voted on, like “Off-line Day” to commemorate the day the Internet died. The police force is privatized and their activities center on their brass band, which children love, and shops have become little stalls where people sell anything they want. And the cover is a perfect!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rachel (Kalanadi)

    2.5 stars - I didn't get it. Plenty of ideas were interesting, but it was all ideas strung together and just when a plot might have got going...it stopped. I think the problem is that I approach this from an SFF point of view, rather than literary fiction. I expect the wrong thing from the story and I get invested in the wrong bits. Oh well! 2.5 stars - I didn't get it. Plenty of ideas were interesting, but it was all ideas strung together and just when a plot might have got going...it stopped. I think the problem is that I approach this from an SFF point of view, rather than literary fiction. I expect the wrong thing from the story and I get invested in the wrong bits. Oh well!

  19. 4 out of 5

    fatma

    I love strange books, and The Emissary is as strange as they come. But it's also the kind of strange that repels rather than draws you in with its absurdity; it is so strange that it becomes opaque, too slippery for you to really get a hold of it and its story. What I loved about this novella was its focus on the relationship between Mumei and his grandfather Yoshiro. You can tell there's real love there, and Tawada does a great job at laying down roots to make you feel properly invested in this I love strange books, and The Emissary is as strange as they come. But it's also the kind of strange that repels rather than draws you in with its absurdity; it is so strange that it becomes opaque, too slippery for you to really get a hold of it and its story. What I loved about this novella was its focus on the relationship between Mumei and his grandfather Yoshiro. You can tell there's real love there, and Tawada does a great job at laying down roots to make you feel properly invested in this relationship that's the foundation of her narrative. Also, Tawada's writes beautifully. You only need to look at the first paragraph of the novel to get what I mean: "Still in his blue silk pajamas, Mumei sat with his bottom flat on the tatami. Perhaps it was his head, much too large for his slender long neck, that made him look like a baby bird. Hairs fine as silk threads stuck to his scalp, damp with sweat. His eyes nearly shut, he moved his head as if searching the air, trying to catch on his tympanic membrane the scraping of footsteps on gravel. The footsteps grew louder, then stopped. The sliding door rattled like a freight train, and as Mumei opened up his eyes, morning light, yellow as melted dandelions, poured in. The boy threw back his shoulders, puffed out his chest and stuck out both his arms like a bird spreading its wings. If you want something short and interesting--though not necessarily transparent--to read, then try out The Emissary. I'll definitely be on the lookout for Tawada's other works.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Sigh. Another three star book! Yoko Tawada's novella has an incredibly intriguing premise which is ripe with potential: the setting is Japan in the not too distant future, where the elderly live forever and children are born frail, with multiple health issues and die young (creating a new category of society dubbed the "young elderly"). Countries are sealed off from trade with each other, and travel is near impossible, the centre of Tokyo is uninhabitable. The environment is massively degraded by Sigh. Another three star book! Yoko Tawada's novella has an incredibly intriguing premise which is ripe with potential: the setting is Japan in the not too distant future, where the elderly live forever and children are born frail, with multiple health issues and die young (creating a new category of society dubbed the "young elderly"). Countries are sealed off from trade with each other, and travel is near impossible, the centre of Tokyo is uninhabitable. The environment is massively degraded by natural disasters and damage from humans, the only dogs are ones you can rent for a walk and food is scarce. We follow a man whose 100th birthday passed years ago, Yoshiro, and his great great grandson, Mumei (無名, which literally means "no name"). Mumei's father is absent and Yoshiro is left to raise him alone, although the concept of parents does not exactly exist in this dystopia. Alongside all this we learn of a secret organisation that is working to send children abroad as emissaries. (At least I think that's what they were doing - honestly, this part was infuriatingly vague.) There was a lot of world building and description for the first third of the novella, which was great but didn't leave a whole lot of room for a story of any significant depth to develop. As I said in an update when I was reading, I think this would have worked better as a novel - it kind of felt that the world building and all the interesting ideas came to nothing in the end (I finished this book a matter of hours ago and have already forgotten the ending), which was a shame. So much early promise but for me the whole was less than the sum of its parts.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Inderjit Sanghera

    An unspecified disaster has rendered Japan into a nightmarish world where the old are cursed with perpetual youth and the youth with early deaths. It is a world devoid of wildlife, a closeted and parochial world which Japan has cut itself off from; foreign languages are largely banned and the memories of anything vaguely foreign, from food to culture slowly fades from the consciousness of the people. Although Tawada is able to skilfully construct a dystopian future where free thought is graduall An unspecified disaster has rendered Japan into a nightmarish world where the old are cursed with perpetual youth and the youth with early deaths. It is a world devoid of wildlife, a closeted and parochial world which Japan has cut itself off from; foreign languages are largely banned and the memories of anything vaguely foreign, from food to culture slowly fades from the consciousness of the people. Although Tawada is able to skilfully construct a dystopian future where free thought is gradually impinged by an increasingly draconian government, where the relationships between people are gradually sundered beneath a hazy sea of indifference and where the world as we know is transformed into one devoid of any sense of humanity, this is also the weakness of the novel, as the characters, perhaps intentionally, read as hollowed-out human beings, two-dimensional husks of humanity whose thought are so surreal and strange that the reader struggles to build any empathy for them. The dystopia depicted by Tawada isn't one of great violence, but one where humanity is slowly losing its sense of self beneath a fog of increasingly supercilious and surreal set of emotions. Tawada's novel is an interesting, if ultimately unsuccessful take on the dystopian novel. 

  22. 4 out of 5

    Callum McLaughlin

    This is perhaps the quietest dystopian I've ever read, but it's no less thought-provoking for that fact. There's an almost ethereal tone to the whole thing that lets Tawada's unique narrative voice shine through (despite the translation process), allowing her to explore themes in a way that somehow feels both speculative and current. Though some details of the world's downfall are deliberately left to our imagination, we get enough to understand that this future is one not unlike what we ourselve This is perhaps the quietest dystopian I've ever read, but it's no less thought-provoking for that fact. There's an almost ethereal tone to the whole thing that lets Tawada's unique narrative voice shine through (despite the translation process), allowing her to explore themes in a way that somehow feels both speculative and current. Though some details of the world's downfall are deliberately left to our imagination, we get enough to understand that this future is one not unlike what we ourselves could be facing very soon. Several timely themes quickly emerge as a result, including the rise of nationalism and strict border control; the concept of gender fluidity; the use of language and law-making to incite fear of the Other; and how the pursuit of self-gain in current generations is dooming both the planet and those who must inhabit it after us. Despite its obvious pathos, I felt a prominent air of whimsy, with the spark of youthful wonder still very much alive in Mumei and the other young characters. The implication is that, with children, there is still hope for the future, but they must learn from our mistakes. There are unusual metaphors and playful images throughout that I enjoyed, particularly the recurring motif which sees Mumei compared to a bird. Birds are creatures which appear slight, but which often symbolise freedom and hope, a notion that takes on increased significance as Mumei's story progresses. Strange, understated, and somewhat thin in plot, this is a book focussed far more on mood and message than it is on story. For that reason, it's one many readers probably won't click with. Fortunately, I was drawn in by its singular charm, and its subtle but intelligent delivery of some prescient home truths.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Karen Mace

    A quirky and fascinating little book! It's beautifully written, a little confusing at times and a little scary too as it takes a look at life in a dystopian Japan, where the elderly are the carers for a generation of youngsters who are prone to illness, disease and no understanding of life 'before' the isolation policy was brought in around the world. The scenario of a time where countries have such serious problems that they are all shut off to one another so they can solve their own issues, is A quirky and fascinating little book! It's beautifully written, a little confusing at times and a little scary too as it takes a look at life in a dystopian Japan, where the elderly are the carers for a generation of youngsters who are prone to illness, disease and no understanding of life 'before' the isolation policy was brought in around the world. The scenario of a time where countries have such serious problems that they are all shut off to one another so they can solve their own issues, is something so alien to us but many in this Japan have grown up knowing no other way. They don't know foreign languages, no idea what telephones are, no transport, less food - it's all the norm for them. But the old-elderly do remember and they are the strongest and fittest in society. The devotion shown by Yoshiri to his great grandson Mumei is touching and endearing. Knowing that certain foods are just too tough or bad for his great grandson has him going to extreme measures to find the right balance for him. The way Yoshiri looks back at the old times is quite poignant especially knowing that it means so little to those younger than him, and when we get to hear the perspective of Mumei you are just struck by how innocent he is, but appreciative of all that his great grandfather does for him. Packs a lot in for such a short novella - 138 pages - and gives you as a reader plenty to think about and worry about for the future we may all face!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Durrant

    Yoko Tawada's writing has been described as one of "magnificent strangeness." This short novel, to be sure, is strange and makes me eager to read more of Tawada's writings. However, it is so brief and yet filled with bizarre, enticing ideas that I wished constantly for more development and came away feeling I sometimes did not quite understand what was happening. Perhaps this is part of her "magnificent strangeness." Still I was left intrigued but slightly discontent. One thing is clear, this is Yoko Tawada's writing has been described as one of "magnificent strangeness." This short novel, to be sure, is strange and makes me eager to read more of Tawada's writings. However, it is so brief and yet filled with bizarre, enticing ideas that I wished constantly for more development and came away feeling I sometimes did not quite understand what was happening. Perhaps this is part of her "magnificent strangeness." Still I was left intrigued but slightly discontent. One thing is clear, this is something of a satire of modern Japan, where an aging population means that the old must remain active, a land tips constantly on the edge of catastrophe, either man-made or natural, and a government is continually tempted to turn inward, as Japan has done before. In Tawada's vision, these features are carried to an imaginative extreme so that the novel presents a kind of dystopia. But, again quite strangely, it is a dystopian novel with moments of great tenderness and even beauty. Particularly interesting, at least to this reader, were Tawada's play with language and keen awareness that in any effort of isolationism, language itself can play a critical role.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    An absolutely marvellous and mysterious book by the author of Memoirs of a Polar Bear. I have loved Japanese writer’s Yoko Tawada’s previous writings, but this one knocks it out of the park with its sheer sublime investigation of caring and time and what it means to be present in the world. The book takes place in a dystopic Japan that is cordoned off from the rest of the world. The elderly have been bestowed with a strange gift of immortality and grow feisty and more active the older they becom An absolutely marvellous and mysterious book by the author of Memoirs of a Polar Bear. I have loved Japanese writer’s Yoko Tawada’s previous writings, but this one knocks it out of the park with its sheer sublime investigation of caring and time and what it means to be present in the world. The book takes place in a dystopic Japan that is cordoned off from the rest of the world. The elderly have been bestowed with a strange gift of immortality and grow feisty and more active the older they become. Whereas the new generation of children are weak, feeble and confined to wheelchairs, teetering on the brink of mortality their whole lives. By swapping the roles of the old and the young, Tawada explores what it means to have a knowledge of one’s finite passage in the world. And the children have such profound sense of wisdom, and what is important and what is not worth holding onto. It is sweet and funny and poignant on so many levels. .

  26. 5 out of 5

    J $

    While "dystopian" is a useful way to describe The Emissary, something about the word strikes me as too grand, too loud for a novel that is so decidedly soft-spoken. Light and lyrical, The Emissary is less the story of a catastrophe and more the story of ourselves abstracted, an amusing examination of the current human condition taken to its most absurd. Tawada's prose is endlessly engaging and her characters wonderfully realized; in them, we find all our familiar hopes and anxieties - life, deat While "dystopian" is a useful way to describe The Emissary, something about the word strikes me as too grand, too loud for a novel that is so decidedly soft-spoken. Light and lyrical, The Emissary is less the story of a catastrophe and more the story of ourselves abstracted, an amusing examination of the current human condition taken to its most absurd. Tawada's prose is endlessly engaging and her characters wonderfully realized; in them, we find all our familiar hopes and anxieties - life, death, legacy - as enduring as ever. And that, I feel, is perhaps what is so endearing about The Emissary - that in spite of an increasingly miserable world, we remain irrepressibly ourselves, caught between dreams and daily squabbles.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karolina

    2.5 I like the premise, but the writing was chaotic and nothing special. It’s not bad by any means, but somehow my attention kept drifting away. Maybe if it more structured, it’d be more pleasurable to read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Smiley

    3.75 stars It's a pity I've never heard of Yoko Tawada or read her books, this is her very first one so it's a bit tough to say something on the story. Indeed I decided to buy this one to read due to its introductory first sentence, "Yoko Tawada's new novel, The Emissary, is a breathtakingly lighthearted meditation on mortality." (back cover), its publication by New Directions and her formidable academic stature as a Japanese and German writer who is a PhD holder in German literature from the Uni 3.75 stars It's a pity I've never heard of Yoko Tawada or read her books, this is her very first one so it's a bit tough to say something on the story. Indeed I decided to buy this one to read due to its introductory first sentence, "Yoko Tawada's new novel, The Emissary, is a breathtakingly lighthearted meditation on mortality." (back cover), its publication by New Directions and her formidable academic stature as a Japanese and German writer who is a PhD holder in German literature from the University of Zurich in 2000. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoko_Ta...) However, we can read its Goodreads synopsis (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...) and see more light while reading on and on. To sum up, it's a story of relationship between the great-grandfather Yoshiro and his great grandson, an eight-year-old boy (to verify) called Mumei meaning no name in Japanese. (p. 74) Coming to think about the whole message from this book, I think the writer has sent a message to the world that such an unhealthy boy, Mumei, can be a beacon of hope to the elderly and other children in the family, the community and the nation. In other words, looking at them as a burden needs a new vision as narrated based on day-t0-day routine, this should be considered as one of those modern challenges that has long been one of the problems regarding the ageing population and the children with poor health in all countries in the 21st century. It's also a bit time consuming if we'd like to know why she's chosen The Emissary as its title because we have to keep reading till we reach this sentence, "Having been chosen as an emissary, he was to stow away on a ship bound for Madras, India." (pp. 128-9) As part of his journey, he would be admitted in an international medical research institute so that it is possible for him to live longer. How old is Yoshiro? As far as I recall, there's no exact number but from this sentence, "Until he was in his eighties, he had checked his face every morning, trimming his nose hairs if they were too long, putting camellia salve on the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes if the skin was dry." (p. 7) this implies he's in his early nineties. Surprisingly, I liked Ms Tawada's sense of humor, for instance, when I came across this two-sentence information ending a paragraph, "The baker was "young elderly," a phrase that had once cracked people up but was now standard usage. People weren't even called "middle-aged elderly" nowadays until they were well into their nineties, and the baker was barely into his late seventies." (p. 11) It's amusing to read how she politely honors old people by using 'elderly' instead with the unthinkable adjective/intensifier 'young' and 'middle-aged'. These words remind me of my sometime remarks to my students and friends regarding our official full retirement at 60 years of age that we should take retirees aged between 61-70 as those in a primary old phase, between 71-80 as those in a secondary old phase, and between 81-90 as those in a tertiary old phase. Believe it or not, we would sometime came across good news that, admirably and amazingly, there are those living between 91-100 and even more who might be categorized as those in a god/sage-like old phase. To continue . . .

  29. 4 out of 5

    Laur (Define Bookish)

    A delicate take on dystopian fiction, The Last Children of Tokyo imagines an isolated future Japan much changed by environmental disaster. The oldest generations seem destined to live forever, but the youngest are weak and vulnerable. This is a melancholy read. It's the story of centenarian Yoshiro who is raising his beloved great-grandson Mumei in a poisoned land, fully aware that he'll outlive him. It's also Mumei's own story, in a perspective shift I found both surprising and moving. This is in A delicate take on dystopian fiction, The Last Children of Tokyo imagines an isolated future Japan much changed by environmental disaster. The oldest generations seem destined to live forever, but the youngest are weak and vulnerable. This is a melancholy read. It's the story of centenarian Yoshiro who is raising his beloved great-grandson Mumei in a poisoned land, fully aware that he'll outlive him. It's also Mumei's own story, in a perspective shift I found both surprising and moving. This is in many ways the type of speculative fiction I'm drawn to - the philosophical variety rather than the action thriller. It's a very human story of loss and guilt; of an older generation who know they've stolen the future from their own descendants. At under 140 pages it feels aptly fleeting, though not lacking in substance. Despite its length, I found it a slower-paced read. Tawada's exploration of the evolution of language is fascinating, though I felt slightly lacking in terms of my knowledge about the Japanese language - in retrospect I'd have taken more from this if I'd stopped and done a little basic research early on. Reading from the perspective of a world hurtling towards climate disaster, my overwhelming feeling is of regret. Vivid yet understated, it's a story for our times.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Darragh

    I've no idea what I just read but I enjoyed every word of it. I've no idea what I just read but I enjoyed every word of it.

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