Thursday, 23 August 2018

The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada

Recently published from Portobello Books in the U.K and New Directions in the U.S, (under the title The Emissary), The Last Children of Tokyo is translated by Margaret Mitsutani and first appeared in Japan in 2014 as Kentoshi. Although quite short, the prose feels quite dense, and as other readers have noted it's quite a paced read, mainly related in third person, the dialogue is sparse. Reading a few reviews of The Last Children of Tokyo the description of it as being dystopian crops up repeatedly, in a number of places it resembles Orwell's 1984, as the narrative unfolds relating the relationship between Yoshiro, a novelist over a hundred years old, and his great-grand son Mumei, Tawada weaves in a number of contemporary concerns and advances them into a projected future. Japan has become more isolationist, environmental abuse is prominent, Mumei is a member of an atrophied generation caught in this great flux, weakened, the elder generation displays more youthfulness than the youth. The age difference between the two characters becomes further apparent when the lives of the intermediate family members are related and of how Yoshiro has come to be Mumei's guardian, definitions are needed to be extended and added upon to cope with this expansion of time.

Maybe in comparison to Tawada's other novels it feels that the prose to The Last Children of Tokyo is a little less experimental, although some familiar themes appear, Tawada's at times humorous observations of literal translations between the languages crops up, and this is set against the concept of a sort of 'official speak' and the obsolete and dysfunction of words and phrases, and through these concerns there's obviously the projected broadening crisis of an ageing population, the novel in places carries an unnerving accurateness with it's projections, this shift in societal behaviour is depicted in a number of places, another example is that gender change is an accepted norm, sometimes occurring a number of times for each person. Through these big themes Yoshiro looks after Mumei and the characters progress, with a slight distraction in the form of neighbour Suiren, both in wheelchairs the novel ends in an enigmatic note. But before that Mumei's schooling leads him to meet Mr Yonatani, a teacher whose background has also been meddled by malign forces, who is searching for an emissary to leave Japan in a bid to find salvation with the outside through clandestine means, and towards the end of the novel the exterior world begins to resemble something in the form of a myth. Mumei's departure from the story appears riddled with uncertainty. The Last Children of Tokyo although short in pages is a penetrating observation tower into both present and future, full of acute ideas and predictions.

The Last Children of Tokyo at Portobello Books  


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