‘The Bridegroom Was a Dog’ by Tawada Yōko, translated by Margaret Misutani

In Japanese literature, you often get these long short stories which are part of a mini-collection. This is one of those. I remember really enjoying this story when I read it ­– I remember it being narrated by the town, following the exploits of one woman who lives there.

Included in The Bridegroom Was a Dog, New Directions 2012 or Kodansha 1998

‘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

‘A Guest’ by Yōko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky

This story isn’t just about a fictional book (which would be thrilling enough) but a fictional book on tape and the voice that detaches from it to haunt the narrator. It also involves a mysterious neighbour who may be called Z, an anxious friend with a typewriter, and the occasional disintegration of language. I love the narrator’s summation of novels and short texts and recognise in it the bloody mindedness that keeps bringing me back to short stories:

How nice it would have been if the voice hadn’t belonged to a novel. I couldn’t understand why it had picked something so boring to attach itself to. Perhaps the voice found it satisfying not to have to live in a short text. Most readers don’t like to read short texts because they have so little time. They would rather go for a walk in a long novel and not have to change. The short texts would go for a walk inside their bodies, which they would find exhausting.

Published in Where Europe Begins, New Directions 2007