Wonder Pens Reads The Emissary by Yoko Tawada
“Day by day Mumei was storing up muscles in some unseen place. Not the sort that bulged so everyone could see them, but muscles he needed to walk in a way known only to himself, muscles that spread, little by little, through his body like a net.”
If you’ve been following us for some time, you may remember that many moons ago, we had a staff book club, and we read some books that I really enjoyed. Alas, as staff have come and gone, our staff book club has taken a sabbatical, and it’s something I miss tremendously.
Over the years, customers have inquired about our book club and it’s been on the back burner for a while, a seed planted and ruminating. There is something both substantial and light about reading the same book with other people that you’re connected to. Now that we’ve begun to carry more books and some of us may have more time or inclination to read, I’m excited to announce that we’re launching our Wonder Pens Reads book club.
Book club is perhaps a bit of a misnomer. I’m mostly going to be sharing a book a month that we’ve loved or enjoyed or thought would be interesting for others. Each monthly selection is going to have a special note card featuring the book for you to use as a bookmark or take notes with as you read, while supplies last.
June’s pick is The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani. It’s a dystopian story, and while some of us may be getting a bit full up on those, this one is a particularly poignant one. In Japan, following an irreparable disaster, Yoshiro and his great-grandson, Mumei, continue onward, drinking in droplets of light and grace, in their love for each other, in Yoshiro’s remembrance of the world as it was, in Mumei’s humour and optimism. It is funny and heartbreaking and contemplates mortality by celebrating each breath, from a sharp knife slicing through a precious orange to sending postcards with invisible ink. Language morphs, the weather is capricious, bodies are unreliable.
In particular—of course—I loved how characters kept in touch by postcards and letters, in a time when other technologies were limited. Yoshiro buying postcards and chatting with the vendor, the natural limit on how much you could write, postage rates. When one character misses another, she forces her longing onto a postcard instead, just a few short sentences.
It’s a slim book, and a good read in a time like this. There are the small details of day to day existence and also the wondering about how it once was and the worry about the future and changes as they come, and but there’s also each other.
And here is a photo of me reading this book in my favourite spot to read in the house: Caleb’s bed. It has turned out to be the last place people look for me. Hope you all find your own quiet spots.
“All he could teach them was how to cultivate language. He was hoping they themselves would plant, harvest, consume, and grow fat on words.”