Yoko Tawada’s latest book is a novella set in a dystopian Japan where climate change and disease have forced the country to close its borders – no one is allowed in or out. Even foreign words are banned.
Yoshiro is bringing up his great-grandson, Mumei in a world where the old still work and only get older, and children get sick and die young. The rest of the family have left Tokyo or died.
“The aged could not die; along with the gift of everlasting life, they were burdened with the terrible task of watching their great-grandchildren die.”
Getting Mumei to eat or get dressed is a constant battle; like all children his teeth are soft, he is underweight and at risk of an infection. If he expends too much energy getting dressed, he won’t be able to walk to school.
The future is bleak. And yet the writing is effortlessly light and often darkly humorous: People aren’t called “middle-aged elderly” until they’re well into their nineties. Children without parents aren’t orphans but “independent children”.
A surreal story about human love in the face of an unimaginable future, this is a thought-provoking short novel; it’s images of damaged children living in a ruined world will stay with you. A cautionary tale for our troubled times.
This English translation by Margaret Mitsutani is published by Portobello Books.