The Bridegroom Was a Dog by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani + Author Interview [in AsianWeek]
If I wanted to make my mother truly proud, I would finally complete either of the two doctorates I abandoned. And just to give her false hope –how wicked can I really be? – I could tell her I have actually found the dissertation topic of my dreams in the unexplainable, whimsical, playful, shocking writings of Yoko Tawada. She writes in both Japanese and German, and is amazing with wordplay – one could easily wax on for 200-plus pages about her most unique literary achievements.
Born in Japan in 1960, Tawada started writing novels when she was teenager as a silent –although personally effective –way of disagreeing with her teachers. She studied Russian literature at Waseda University in Japan and moved to Hamburg, Germany, in 1982 to pursue her interests in European literatures and languages, including Russian, Polish, German, and French. She initially worked for two years for a business partner of her father’s, then pursued her interests in earnest at the University of Hamburg, where she earned a master’s in German literature.
Although she arrived in Germany with only a grammatical knowledge of the language, so eloquent was Tawada when she wrote in her adopted language that she eventually won the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize in 1996, an award given to foreign writers in recognition of their contribution to German literature. In addition to writing in her adopted German, Tawada also writes poems, stories, novels, and plays in her native Japanese.
More recently, Tawada is rapidly gaining recognition in the English-speaking market since the publication of Where Europe Begins, a collection of translated short stories that debuted last fall. Her collection of three novellas, The Bridegroom Was a Dog, which was quietly translated and published in English in 1998, did not initially capture the imagination of Western readers, although it had won the esteemed Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s version of the Pulitzer or Booker, in 1993. With the success of Europe, Bridegroom returns anew in paperback, debuting this month.
To describe Tawada’s stories is about as easy as … say, doing back flips while slurping a milk shake. But the experience of reading them is just as deliciously jarring.
The title story of Bridegroom is roughly about a teacher who becomes involved with a man with rather canine habits. The second story, “Missing Heels,” seems to capture the misadventures of a mail-order bride who crosses into a nameless country to meet her unknown husband, who remains an invisible mystery even as she lives in his home. In the final story, “The Gotthard Railway,” a young woman travels through the bowels of the St. Gotthard tunnel in Switzerland, replacing a Japanese writer originally assigned to write a story about the journey.
In each of her stories, nothing is as expected and everything is a surprise: this is the magical world of Yoko Tawada, caught between multiple languages, cultures, themes, and just plain words… [click here for more]
Published: 1998, 2003 (re-issue) (United States)