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, making her an exophonic writer.
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 her doctorate in German literature at the University of Zurich. In 1987 she published Nur da wo du bist da ist nichts—Anata no iru tokoro dake nani mo nai (A Void Only Where You Are), a collection of poems in a German and Japanese bilingual edition.
Tawada's Missing Heels received the Gunzo Prize for New Writers in 1991, and The Bridegroom Was a Dog received the Akutagawa Prize in 1993. In 1999 she became writer-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for four months. Her Suspect on the Night Train won the Tanizaki Prize and Ito Sei Literary Prize in 2003. Tawada's texts play with the limits of language and the perspective of an outsider. She has stated that Paul Celan and Franz Kafka have been important influences for her work.
Tawada received the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize in 1996, a German award to foreign writers in recognition of their contribution to German culture, and the Goethe Medal in 2005. She is the 2016 recipient of the Kleist Prize.
Prominent German to English Works
"Memoirs of a Polar Bear"
- Was originally written in German and published in 2016. It is considered a fiction novel that was translated into English by Susan Bernofsky. The novel follows three generations of polar bears, the first being the head of the family who started out as a bear for the circus but became a best selling author, her daughter Tosca who also was circus performer that talks to her human trainer in dreams, and her son Knut who was born in a Berlin zoo who shares mutual love with his trainer. The first and third generation of bear were very famous in their own right. The novel explores the relationship between animals and humans. Through her writings, Tawada brings out our curiosity for other species as well as our love for them. The problem she proposes with this novel is one within the human psyche; how humans are able to love an animal without having to consume it. This novel solves that problem through the life of these three bears and their interactions with humans and teaches the reader how animal and humans can live in harmony.
"The Naked Eye"
- Is the first of Yoko Tawada’s writings to be translated into English. It was published in 2009 and is a fictional novel that was translated into English by Susan Bernofsky. The novel follows a Vietnamese girl who was kidnapped at a young age while in Germany for a youth conference. This novel is unique in the fact that Tawada had written in both German and Japanese, and ended up creating two versions, one in each language. The novel itself challenges the boundaries of language through this young girl’s experiences. The way she wrote the novel fits the narrator, as she herself was often not able to find her own words. As a result of the narrators inability to communicate effectively her thoughts and feelings through words, she tells her story through film/ motion picture, specifically through actress Catherine Deneuve’s numerous roles played in films. The unique story telling gives the reader the sense that what exactly is going on in this young woman’s life is not known. Tawada does her best to keep the narrator lost and constantly searching for her purpose. It is a novel of narrative that hasn’t been seen before, and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat at every turn.
Prominent Japanese to English Works
"The Bridegroom Was A Dog"
- Is a Japanese fiction novel that consists of three separate novellas published in Japan in 1993 and then published and translated into English in 1998 by Margaret Mitsutani. The title novella also won the Akutagawa Prize in 1993 as well, the Japanese version of the Pulitzer award. The novel begins with the title novella, and introduces a school teacher by the name of Ms. Kitamura who is telling a fairy tail about a canine and a princess to her students. The canine licks the bottom of the princess and as a result is promised marriage to the princess for his doings. The story takes a sudden, odd turn when a doglike male by the name of Iinuma shows up and seduces the teacher. The only real relationship they have is one of sex, as they rarely converse. Iinuma’s only other usefulness is his ability to clean Kitmaura’s house. The second of the three novellas, called “Missing Heals” deals with a mail order bride who mysteriously shows up to an odd house. The mail order bride never actually catches a glimpse of her new husband and. She only has expectations of what a husband is to be and sees this in her dreams. She is left daily allowances and warm tea each morning. She begins to grow impatient and has a locksmith unlock her husbands door. What awaits her, she was never ready for. The third of the novellas is called “The Gotthard Railway.” This novella follows a young woman as she travels through the St. Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland. As she travels through this tunnel, she tells of her possible lover. All three of these novellas help connect the dreams we have and the storytelling that follows.
"Facing the Bridge"
- Is a Japanese fictional novel consisting of three novellas published in 2007 and translated to English by Margaret Mitsutani. The first of the novellas, “The Shadow Man”, follows two different characters. The first character introduced goes by the name of Amo who came to Germany from Africa as a slave for the Duke of Braunschweig at the age of 7. He is a very timid, shy man who struggles to fit into German society. He goes on to become educated and be the first African to receive a philosophy degree from a European University. The other character Tamao, is a Japanese student studying in Germany. He is very similar to Amo in that he was a shy, timid man. He does not fit into German nor Japanese culture. The second novella is called “In Front of Tran Tien Bridge.” It follows Japanese woman living in Germany going to Vietnam as a tourist. Her name is Kazuko Minamiyama. She goes to Vietnam and continuously sees more and more woman that look just like her. The third and final novella is called "Saint George and the Translator” and it takes place in the Canary Islands. It follows a woman gone there to work, but is unable to do so as interest is not there to read the manuscripts. The three novellas bring characters to places where they must face their most difficult adversities, hence facing the bridge.
Selected works in English
- "The Bridegroom Was a Dog" (Inu muko iri, 犬婿入り), translated by Margaret Mitsutani, Kodansha International (September 2003), ISBN 4-7700-2940-3. This edition includes Missing Heels (Kakato o nakushite).
- "Where Europe Begins," translated by Susan Bernofsky and Yumi Selden, New Directions Publishing Corporation (October 2002), ISBN 0-8112-1515-6
- "Facing the Bridge," translated by Margaret Mitsutani, New Directions Publishing Corporation (2007), ISBN 978-0811216906
- "The Naked Eye," translated by Susan Bernofsky, New Directions Publishing Corporation (2009), ISBN 978-0-8112-1739-2
- "Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation by Chantal Wright," University of Ottawa Press (2013), ISBN 978-0-7766-0803-7
- "Memoirs of a Polar Bear," translated by Susan Bernofsky, New Directions Publishing Corporation (2016), ISBN 978-0811225786
- "The Emissary," translated by Margaret Mitsutani, New Directions Publishing Corporation (2018), ISBN 978-0-8112-2763-6
- 1991 Gunzo Prize for New Writers・Shinjin-Bungaku-Sho
- 1993 Akutagawa Prize for The Bridegroom Was a Dog (Inu muko iri, 犬婿入り)
- 1994 Lessing Prize
- 1996 Adelbert von Chamisso Prize
- 2000 Izumi Kyōka Prize for Literature
- 2003 Sei Ito Literature Prize
- 2003 Tanizaki Prize for Suspect on the Night Train (Yogisha no yako ressha, 容疑者の夜行列車)
- 2005 Goethe Medal
- 2013 Erlanger Literaturpreis
- 2016 Kleist Prize
- 2017 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation
- Bettina Brandt, "Scattered Leaves: Artist Books and Migration, a Conversation with Yoko Tawada", Comparative Literature Studies, 45/1 (2008) 12-22
- Bettina Brandt, "Ein Wort, ein Ort, or How Words Create Places: Interview with Yoko Tawada", Women in German Yearbook, 21 (2005), 1-15
- Maria S. Grewe, Estranging Poetic: On the Poetic of the Foreign in Select Works by Herta Müller and Yoko Tawada, Columbia University, New York 2009
- Ruth Kersting, Fremdes Schreiben: Yoko Tawada, Trier 2006
- Christina Kraenzle, Mobility, space and subjectivity: Yoko Tawada and German-language transnational literature, University of Toronto (2004)
- Petra Leitmeir, Sprache, Bewegung und Fremde im deutschsprachigen Werk von Yoko Tawada, Freie Universität Berlin (2007)
- Douglas Slaymaker (Ed.): Yoko Tawada: Voices from Everywhere, Lexington Books (2007)
- Yoko Tawada at J'Lit Books from Japan (in English)
- Synopsis of Suspect on the Night Train at JLPP (Japanese Literature Publishing Project) (in English)
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