Monday, 12 April 2010

The Bridegroom Was a Dog

Yoko Tawada won the Akutagawa Prize with The Bridegroom Was a Dog/ Inumukoiri in 1993, this volume, published by Kodansha and translated by Margaret Mitsutani, also collects together two other novellas Missing Heels/Kakato o nakushite, (1992), which won the Gunzo Literature Prize, and the third story being The Gotthard Railway/Gotthard tetsudo, from 1996, Tawada's other writings have earned many prizes, including the Goethe Medal. Tawada's prose has a very unpredictable style, and often throws the occasional curve ball, sometimes it is fantastical and also uses magical realism, and at other times it can be very surreal, but to confine it to any one thing would be an inadequate description, the lines between metaphor, fantasy and the descriptive can sometimes be difficult to discern. In Inumukoiri, the central character, Mitsuko Kitamura runs a slightly unconventional cram school in a non eventful neighbourhood. She tells her pupils stories of humans that marry animals, from the folktale of The Crane Wife to that of a princess who promises her hand in marriage to a dog as a reward for licking her bottom clean, this is arranged through the princess's lazy nanny, this strange little story casts a shadow over the rest of the story, as one day the strange, (and dog-like), Taro appears at Mitsuko's house, the history of their relationship remains a mystery. Her house is often the object of curiosity for many of the school children who spy on her goings on through the garden fence. At a house party that Mitsuko throws, one of her neighbours thinks that Taro could be the husband of one of her friends who went missing some time ago, she phones the friend, Ryoko, to arrange a time for her to come and check to see if Taro is her husband, between them the mystery around Taro begins to be partially explained, this story has one of the longest opening sentences I've come across in a while.

The second story Missing Heels was the one I enjoyed the most and out of the three this one seemed to demonstrate the Escher like effect of Tawada's prose, that sometimes also carries a slight Kafka rationale or sensibility about it. A mail order bride arrives at a city to begin her married life with her new husband, the disorientating images of the city are presented when she watches a man tearing off different layers of posters on an advertising board revealing an array of different images. Added to this the streets appear to be sliding, which unbalances the people walking along, and cause them to cling onto their belongings. After finding her new husband's house, she heads for the ambiguously entitled 'General Training School for Beginners' where she encounters a teacher who smells of sleeping pills. She asks if she can be taught about various things like 'bathing' and later 'shopping'. After discussing marriage she tells the teacher about her decision on getting married 'I gave this decision a lot of thought,and came here of my own free will', the teacher replies adroitly,'Poor people have no will of their own'. Her husband is rarely seen, he's usual heard running away (escaping footsteps), or what we learn of him is through the woman's strange dreams of him, in the mornings she finds that he has left money for her on the side table. Her husband arranges a hospital appointment for her, the reason is not too clear, the episode is a surreal one, the doctor's diagnosis is unexpected and she observes that the nurse, 'had the vague aura of a photograph taken in the last century, sitting there frozen with a rubber stamp in her hand'. The last story being, 'The Gotthard Railway', is told by a Japanese journalist whose is sent to write a piece on the Gotthard railway, although we learn that she's only doing it by proxy as the original Japanese writer who was meant to do it is far too busy, she travels with an engineer who used to work on the line, this story also works free from it's simple plot. Tawada's prose is multi faceted and is open to many interpretations, her most recently translated book is the The Naked Eye.


Edit:  Here's a video from 2006 of Tawada Yoko recently found via Little Otsu Publishing blog.


Will said...

I recently read this. I agree, I was impressed the most by Missing Heels, but I appreciated certain aspects of the Bridegroom was a Dog. I just didn't "get it", so to speak. At least Tawada has an interesting style.

Mel u said...

Thanks for letting us know about this excellent sounding book-the more I get involved with the Japanese novel (in English trans)-the more impressed I become-do you have an idea how any Japanese novels have been translated into English-?

me. said...

This is the first of Tawada's books i've read,i'm going to read some more in the future,i think in the story 'The Gotthard Railway' where the character notes the absurdity of signs like,'Do not play on the grass',and the character then mentions something along the lines of how literature doesn't include things like,'Warning!, Umeaningful sentences not allowed',i thought this maybe offered a clue about some aspects of Tawada's writing style.I'm not too sure how many Japanese novels have been translated, 100's maybe,i was surprised by how many Akutagawa prize winning stories have seen translation.I've been tempted to compile a list of translated novels/short stories,not sure tho',it would take ages..