Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Naked Eye by Yoko Tawada

The most recent translation of Tawada Yoko, (The Naked Eye, New Directions 2009, translated from the German Das Nackte Aug, Konkursbuch Verlag, 2004 by Susan Bernofsky), again witnesses her narrative traversing across many borders, the protagonist, a young Vietnamese student who has travelled from Vietnam to Berlin to speak at an international  conference is kidnapped the evening before she is due to present her lecture. The novel opens with a swirling description of a room, the scene as if seen by a digital camera whose operator is unaware of the fact that it's actually recording, presents a sequence of unrelated objects, the narrator concludes; It isn't possible to reconstruct a story from this landscape of ruins.
The young woman's geographical knowledge of Europe is slight, it being the first time she has travelled, although fluent in Russian her kidnapper is a German student who smuggles her back to his apartment in his car. At an attempt at entrapping her to stay with him permanently  her kidnapper, Jorg, tries to convince her that she is pregnant, as time passes she begins to take walks and she learns the location of the town's train station. Through a series of events she manages to board the train which she assumes will take her to Moscow, but it is in fact making it's way to Paris, on board she is fortunate in finding a Vietnamese woman who gives her the address of her sister in Paris who'll be able to help her. Through the  novel's narrator, (who later gives the false name of Anh), we too become spectators to a familiar world where meanings and interpretations have become slightly adrift from positions and relationships that are taken for granted, in a sense that they revert back to presenting themselves as existing only partially comprehended, we begin to reinterpret and re-associate images and behaviours of people and events, being viewed without being bound to their original language or culture leaves them prone to being interpreted with a sense of slight surreality and ambiguity, they shift between context and contextlessness, or in as much they form a new context, the form of Tawada's prose often transforms from prose to the poetical, passages sometimes linking thematically.

Tawada's novels truly have an international scope to them, spanning continents and countries, political and gender ideologies, through the narrator of The Naked Eye we look into the lives of the characters that she encounters, Marie, the prostitute, Ai Van and her French husband Jean, Charles who she meets at the cinema, the Vietnamese doctor, Tuong Linh. The novel has a cinematic quality to it, when she makes it to Paris the narrator finds a sanctuary in the cinema and becomes obsessed by the films of Catherine Deneuve, the chapter  titles of the book begin to take on the name of her films, Indochine, Drole d'endroit pour une rencontre, Dancer in the Dark, and many more, in each of them we are given a synopsis of scenes and scenarios, the segments of those which the narrator doesn't fully comprehend are described in a circumspect way, as the novel progresses the narrative of the synopsis and the actual narrative sometimes subtly cross paths. It could be said that suspicions are slightly roused in the plausibility to some of the connections of the segments of the novel, but they can be easily overlooked, as the novel convincingly paints a picture of the easiness for people to slip out of sight when moving between borders, the scope and inventiveness of Tawada's prose is always something to be in awe of. Tawada has been awarded nearly all of the major awards in Japan most recently the Noma Prize. 


The Naked Eye at New Directions Publishing

Das Nackte Aug at Konkursbuch Verlag


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