Welcome 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). 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.
... mordantly funny ... More than simply international, her writing is translingual; she leaves the borders between languages open and allows them to cross-pollinate. To translate her into English is to excavate linguistic strata: Panska reads like a Japonic parody of Nordic syntax translated into a West Germanic language ... Each character in Tawada’s 'band of zigzag travelers' is given chapters to narrate in the first person. These limited perspectives give rise to a comedy of intercultural misunderstandings that both move the plot forward and provide targets for Tawada’s sharp satire ... Judging by the recent migrant crises that informed Tawada’s novel, it is a long-overdue lesson. By the time we are reading the trilogy’s final volume, the climate-fiction scenario Tawada drapes in the trappings of picaresque comedy will no longer seem speculative.
According to Yoko Tawada, literature should always start from zero. She is a master of subtraction, whose characters often find themselves stripped of language in foreign worlds ... Scattered All Over the Earth [is] Tawada’s playful and deeply inventive new novel ... Tawada applies the same fairy-tale conventions—mistaken identity, unexpected metamorphosis—to the dilemmas of finding linguistic shelter in a world of rising seas and ceaseless migration ... The characters all take turns as narrator, contributing their own incongruous understanding; Tawada elevates the comedy of mistranslation to a principle of narrative ... The linguistic love triangles culminate in a somewhat chaotic dénouement, filled with comedy and coincidence ... As metafiction, it succeeds brilliantly, sketching a grim global dilemma with the sort of wit and humanism that Italo Calvino, in a discussion of lightness in literature, described as 'weightless gravity' ... But the novel occasionally falters in its efforts to imbue the characters with psychological depth; splitting the difference between a high-concept fairy tale and a realist novel is a hard trick to pull off. Family traumas and romantic dramas can feel like laborious pretexts to illuminate some aspect of language as lived experience.
... possesses both the looseness and wistfulness of extreme displacement ... Ms. Tawada’s characters are similarly impressionistic: mobile, protean and evanescent, whirled together in a manner that can seem insubstantial but combines to form a vision of beauty and calm.