‘Where Europe Begins’ by Yōko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky

In a dizzying, fragmented narrative consisting of extracts from a travel journal, stories and childhood memories, a woman describes her journey across Siberia, fulfilling a lifelong dream to see Moscow. However, rather than being a simple travel diary, ‘Where Europe Begins’ blends travelogue and myth, with the narrator exploring the concept of boundaries as she approaches a Europe whose borders nobody can agree on. Moscow becomes less a city than a promise of something unattainable, a pipe dream, so it’s little wonder that as the narrator gets closer to the Russian capital, barriers appear to prevent her from ever reaching it. Apart from being a mesmerising story, ‘Where Europe Begins’ is unique among my selections in that it wasn’t actually written in Japanese, with Tawada having composed this piece in German (as some of you may have surmised from the translator’s name…).

Included in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature (Abridged), Columbia University Press, 2011

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