Winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature (and by the celebrated surrealist author of Memoirs of a Polar Bear), The Emissary is a slim, tender dystopian novel set in an isolated, post-disaster Japan, focusing on a sick-but-cheery boy and his great-grandfather.
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.