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The Emissary

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  5,816 ratings  ·  835 reviews
Japan, after suffering from a massive irreparable disaster, cuts itself off from the world. Children are so weak they can barely stand or walk: the only people with any get-go are the elderly. Mumei lives with his grandfather Yoshiro, who worries about him constantly. They carry on a day-to-day routine in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima time, with all the children ...more
Paperback, 138 pages
Published April 24th 2018 by New Directions (first published October 31st 2014)
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Average rating 3.51  · 
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 ·  5,816 ratings  ·  835 reviews

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Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
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 ...more
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Elyse  Walters
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
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’
Matthew Salesses
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have no idea what I just read but I enjoyed reading it

”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
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.
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
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
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,
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
lark benobi
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: new-directions
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 ...more
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Antonomasia by: 2018 US National Book Award for Translated Literature
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
Jun 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: translated
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 ...more
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
I only ended up finishing this because it was so short. And even then it was a struggle. Apparently this is about a near future Japan that's closed off from the rest of the world due to some kind of environmental/political breakdown. The population are not doing well, children are born increasingly weak and fragile while the old elderly are still strong and healthy.

90% of the story is about one of these old elderly men who is looking after his great grandson. That's about it. We don't really ge
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: Antonomasia
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 ...more
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 ...more
Helen McClory
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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 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! ...more
Aug 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: translated, japanese
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 ...more
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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
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
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 ...more
Karen Mace
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Stephen Durrant
Nov 06, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
J $
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
May 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
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.
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, japan
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
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
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Yōko Tawada (多和田葉子 Tawada Yōko, born March 23, 1960) is a Japanese writer currently living in Berlin, Germany. She writes in both Japanese and German.

Tawada was born in Tokyo, received her undergraduate education at Waseda University in 1982 with a major in Russian literature, then studied at Hamburg University where she received a master's degree in contemporary German literature. She received he

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“On his youth, Yoshiro had prided himself of always having an answer ready when someone asked who his favorite composer or designer was, or what kind of wine he preferred. Confident in his good taste, he had poured time and money into surrounding himself with things that would show it off. Now he no longer felt any need to use taste as the bricks and mortar fora structure called «individuality».” 2 likes
“Being able to see the end of anything gave him a tremendous sense of relief. 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.” 2 likes
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