Tawada may be inventing new genres: the gentle surreal; the understated post-apocalyptic; domestic sci-fi.
Great-grandpa Yoshiro is raising his great-grandson Mumei in a Japan that has sealed itself off from the rest of the world following some unspecified eco-disaster.
Mumei is 9 or 10 years old and in common with his contemporaries is a sickly child. He has underdeveloped musculature and stamina which means he can manage to walk about 10 steps before needing to rest, getting dressed each morning is an exhausting wrestling match with his clothes, his teeth don’t develop the hard enamel and fall out quickly, his body can’t digest anything but small amounts of puréed slop.
Yoshiro, in common with his contemporaries, is the generation that have ‘forgotten how to die’. He is over 100 years old and it is the vigour and energy of this generation that keeps what is left of Japanese society ticking over, just.
All of these huge ideas are delivered through small episodes of domestic life. There is no flamboyant language, Tawada is not trying to show how clever she is with great ideas, political or environmental detail of how we got here, she is simply showing its effect at the everyday level, which is much harder and considerably more effective.
It probably qualifies as a novella – 140 pages – but is packed with images and and ideas that linger. Foremost among these being that no one is trying to be a hero, no one is looking for “the answer” they are all just trying to get through the day.
The writing in simple, I want to use the word “clean”; the story is huge; and the book is a joy.