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Review of Japanese Novelist Yoko Tawada's The Bridegroom Was a Dog

Review of Japanese Novelist Yoko Tawada's The Bridegroom Was a Dog

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Published by W.B. Keckler
Here is a review of the VERY STRANGE Japanese novel The Bridegroom Was a Dog by award-winning Yoko Tawada. It's actually quite a good read...three novellas in one book. Check this out!
Here is a review of the VERY STRANGE Japanese novel The Bridegroom Was a Dog by award-winning Yoko Tawada. It's actually quite a good read...three novellas in one book. Check this out!

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Published by: W.B. Keckler on Nov 07, 2007
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05/08/2014

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Yoko Tawada Goes to the Dogs: A Review of The Bridegroom Was a Dog (1998) I found this lovely and eccentric triple-braid of novellas by the celebratedJapanese prosateuse Yoko Tawada on my usual thrift store peregrinations, and knewinstantly this was one to keep and not to sell. It's a first edition of this work,published (and printed) in Japan by Kodansha International press. Charming linedrawings by Ryuji Watanabe adorn the title page of each story. The cover art isdecidedly odd: above a rather minimalist abstract landscape of silvery gray cloudybanding (an abstraction of morning fog) is a white sky...and what looks like aWeimaraner to me is standing there in sartorial splendor, bow tie and all, lickinghis chops. This is the dust jacket art. The hardcover underneath has the sameminimalist landscape, minus the anthropomorphic Weimaraner. So I guess somebodythought that was a good marketing tactic for wherever this book was sold. Thiscover art confused the kids who stock the shelves at the store, who had placed itin the children's books (my favorite section of books anyway).Here is the bio the book gives for the author: "Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in1960 and educated at Waseda University, and now lives in Germany. She made herdebut as a writer with "Missing Heels," which was awarded the Gunzo Prize for NewWriters in 1991. In 1993 she received the prestigious Akutagawa Prize--Japan'sequivalent of a Booker or a Pulitzer--for "The Bridegroom was a Dog." And in 1996she won the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, a German award to foreign writersrecognized for their contribution to German culture. She has also been given thePrize in Literature from the City of Hamburg (1990) and the Lessing Prize (1994)."So how does this triad of novellas strike one contemporary American reader?Well, I should state first off, the style is clearly "magical realism." The bookavoids this term, and tries to claim (predictable move) that the author hascreated a new genre, or new style. The front matter states: "In these threestories, an ingenious Asian writer has created a new kind of fantasy, playful yetvaguely sinister, laced with her own brand of humor: a blend of the earthiness ofcertain fairy tales and the absurdity of much of real life." This is a fair enoughdescription, but the writing does not really represent a new style, or "new kindof fantasy." The erotic components of these stories are treated with a naturalismone has learned to expect from Japanese literature, but which might titillatereaders unfamiliar with the same.The first and best of these stories is the title piece. The back cover of the bookhas a quote which succinctly gives you the underlying fable: "Once upon a timethere was a little princess who was still too young to wipe herself after she wentto the lavatory, and the woman assigned to look after her was too lazy to do itfor her, so she used to call the princess's favorite black dog and say, 'if youlick her bottom clean, one day she'll be your bride,' and in time the princessherself began looking forward to that day..."This fable is actually a story that a teacher verging on spinsterhood tells heryoung charges. Miss Kitamura runs the Kitamura school, which is a sort ofpreparatory or pre-school for youngsters, out of an old house she has somewhatmysteriously acquired from a farming family. She tells the children otherquestionable things, such as wiping one's bottom with kleenex that has been usedto blow one's nose is rather a delight, and the parents of these children pretendnot to notice the oddity of these pronouncements, preferring to see hidden moralssuch as "the importance of thrift" in them.One day, a man who arrives at her front door (when classes are not in session)asks if she has received the telegram he sent her, while quickly moving her intoanother room as he undresses her and then penetrates her, all in a matter of
 
minutes. The narrator, who seems to experience life rather as a dream anyway, goesalong with this experience completely, only occasionally questioning it. From thatmoment forward these two are a couple, but quite the odd couple. The man turns outto be the exact human embodiment of the dog in the fable, making love to her in,to put it succinctly, "doggie-style." This doesn't just refer to a particularposition. He is in love with her smells and is often gripping her legs and nosingtowards her backside. Somehow this doesn't come off as comical so much as openlyerotic and exciting, which is how the narrator perceives her strange new lover.This relationship awakens a whole new olfactory world for Miss Kitamura herself,who now becomes acutely aware of other people's vicissitudinous smells and evenher own, from which she learns to intuit her own moods. She realizes, forinstance, that sleeping pills leave an odor of discontent on the user's breath.The strange relationship between Miss Kitamura and Iinuma (she only learns hisname when she learns the secret of his hidden past from the mother of one of herpupils) stirs up controversy in the community. The lovers rarely speak andIinuma's only semblance of usefulness (besides sex) seems to be his commitment tocleaning Miss Kitamura's house in an almost obsessive compulsive manner. He isoften on the floor polishing the floorboards, presumbably on all fours like a dog.He sleeps all day, and vanishes every night until morning, in true canine fashion.The story takes a gay (or more properly, bisexual) turn near the end, whichprecipitates major changes in the lives of four characters, including MissKitamura.It is true that this story (like all three stories) walks that fine line betweendream and reality. It is preposterous enough that it could be reality, but it hasa strange logic in the imagery that is distinctly dream-like. Tawada's storiesoften eroticize passivity, yet they don't seem to be about sex so much as they areabout solipsism. The more important characters in her stories don't really seem tobelieve in the world; the world is just a style these characters are somehowprojecting onto the unfolding phenomena around them called by convention a"world," like the narrator in Bridegroom, who is amused by what she perceives tobe her own excesses, even when these include acts by others (or herself) whichseem to shock more "rational" people around her, who, in true solipsist fashion,only exist as part of her unfolding narrative. In short, the author (and hercharacters) seem to believe it beneath us, infradig, to apologize for the dreamwhich is our life.The first novella is an enjoyable read, and I tried to leave some essential plottwists out in case you should choose to read this somehow liberating work.Memorable sentences you want to copy out somewhere for easy accessibility later doabound in this book (respect is due to translator Margaret Mitsutani).The second story, which won Tawada her first major literary prize, is lesssatsifying in the long run, in terms of giving the reader pleasant, lingeringaftereffects, but is still a quite enjoyable read. A woman arriving in anunspecified foreign country steps off a train and loses a heel in the process. Theimbalance this small event occasions never leaves the narrator of the story fromthis point on. Perhaps this is too obvious a metaphor for entering a foreignculture and the inevitable experiences of the unexpected (and often thealienating) one encounters at every turn on the street.Tawada does a clever thing. She waits quite some time before telling us that thenarrator we are following down these unknown streets is not a tourist or atraveling businesswoman, but actually a mail-order bride seeking her newhousehold. When she does finally find this strange house she is to live within,her new husband turns out to be practically a ghost, for he never shows himself toher. She hears his retreating footsteps at times, she finds warm tea and money

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