Scattered All Over the Earth
A mind-expanding, cheerfully dystopian new novel by Yoko Tawada, winner of the 2022 National Book AwardWelcome to the not-too-distant future: Japan, having vanished from the face of the earth, is now remembered as “the land of sushi.” Hiruko, its former citizen and a climate refugee herself, has a job teaching immigrant children in Denmark with her invented language Panska (Pan-Scandinavian): “homemade language. no country to stay in. three countries I experienced. insufficient space in brain. so made new language. homemade language.”
As she searches for anyone who can still speak her mother tongue, Hiruko soon makes new friends. Her troupe travels to France, encountering an umami cooking competition; a dead whale; an ultra-nationalist named Breivik; unrequited love; Kakuzo robots; red herrings; uranium; an Andalusian matador. Episodic and mesmerizing scenes flash vividly along, and soon they’re all next off to Stockholm.
With its intrepid band of companions, Scattered All Over the Earth (the first novel of a trilogy) may bring to mind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or a surreal Wind in the Willows, but really is just another sui generis Yoko Tawada masterwork.
Born in Tokyo in 1960, Yoko Tawada writes in both Japanese and German: she has received the Akutagawa, Kleist, Lessing, Noma, Adelbert von Chamisso, and Tanizaki prizes, as well as the Goethe Medal. Her novel The Emissary won the National Book Award. Rivka Galchen in the New York Times Magazine hailed her work as “magnificently strange.”
Margaret Mitsutani is a translator of Yoko Tawada (sharing her National Book Award) and Kenzaburo Oe (Japan’s 1994 Nobel Prize laureate).