The poles between which Tawada oscillates are thus, not quite independently of her choice of language, the interplay between seriousness and frivolity. The result, in which farce is played as tragedy and tragedy as farce, is a big part of what makes Tawada one of the best and most unique writers working today ... The book’s vision of closed states, xenophobia, mass extinction, and the gulf between the undying adults and their feeble progeny makes it one of the few literary futures that makes you sit up and say 'Oh yeah, that’s totally going to happen' ... From this description, you’d probably imagine Tawada’s book to be a gloomy dystopic nightmare. Instead, it is charming, light, and unapologetically strange, with a distinct 'indie cinema' feel ... Tawada finds a way to make a story of old men trapped in unending life and children fated to die before their time joyful, comic, and—frankly—a huge comfort.
...an airily beautiful dystopian novella about mortality ... Tawada’s quirky style and ability to jump from realism to abstraction manages to both chastise humanity for the path we are taking towards destruction and look hopefully toward an unknown future. This may be a short read, but Tawada’s disciplined conservation of words makes it all the more powerful.
If the term 'cozy catastrophe' weren’t already established, an enterprising critic might have coined it for this book ... The young don’t realize quite how deprived they have become, but readers recognize the scale of their loss ... her rendering of Tawada’s Japanese prose into English is nearly seamless ... The Emissary, for all its charms of prose, all its exercise of the imagination, and all its timely concerns about borders and barriers, somehow feels like local news from yesterday’s paper.
The Emissary is a contentedly minor work. It has a recessive, lunar beauty compared to the sunny ambition and inventiveness of its predecessors ... Tawada is a great disciple of Kafka’s; he 'predicted reality,' she is fond of saying. And while she shares certain of his preoccupations — with otherness and evoking animal life — hers is a more prosaic mission: She mirrors reality. Although her work is frequently described as strange — which it is, determinedly — there is always a stark social critique at its core ... It’s quite a premise, but remains just that. The book feints at a narrative and at wrestling with the issues it raises ... Tawada seems content to evoke mood, to polish her sentences to a high sheen. Her language has never been so arresting. But as Virginia Woolf wrote, novels are composed of paragraphs, not sentences. The Emissary is stalled there, at the level of a flickering brilliance that never kindles into more. From a writer with Tawada’s gifts, mere beauty can be a disappointment.
...a slim and bitingly smart dystopia ... Contrasted against the indicting societal critique in The Emissary is the warm relationship between Yoshiro and Mumei, as well as the elegant and often poetic language used to describe Japan’s future ...Tawada is a superb writer, to be sure, and with more interesting vision than Murakami, but it is clear that The Emissary describes a future with a similarly light tone.
Yoshiro’s ability to accommodate his present by letting go of his past is among The Emissary’s most notable features. It allows a new concept of beauty to emerge — elegantly — despite the novel’s bleak future ... Despite the serious environmental and political challenges presented in The Emissary, Tawada suggests that another path exists. The questions for the reader are whether or not we find beauty in our present, and what that means.
With the ghosts of Fukushima never far from the novel’s margins, the Japan of The Emissary is hallucinatory, contaminated, and distinctly foreign in a familiar way ... With The Emissary, Tawada has crafted a phantasmagoric representation of humanity’s fraught relationship with technology and the natural world ... After all, to write is to remember and, as Tawada suggests, the role of the writer is to translate those silences within language into affective literature in which new meanings can take root and even blossom despite history’s contaminated soil.
Part of what makes The Emissary a distinct and timely work is its focus on the dynamics of language, imagining how language can be warped in extreme social circumstances. Translator Margaret Mitsutani succeeds in preserving much of Tawada’s play of Japanese linguistics into English ... In the exposition of The Emissary, Tawada remains remarkably subtle and restrained. The story reads like a nightmare unfolding in a fog. Rather than direct description, Tawada reveals little pieces of the world through subtle remarks and allusions ... In Mumei we see resiliency, tenderness, and an unbridled imagination. The Emissary urges us to keep that imagination close to our hearts and put it to work, to envision a better future for ourselves and the generations to come.
Despite the gloomy circumstances, Tawada’s narrative remains incandescent as she charts the hopeful paths both grandfather and grandson embark upon in their attempt to overcome mortality’s grim restraints ... An ebullient meditation on language and time that feels strikingly significant in the present moment.