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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Facing the Bridge

Tawada Yoko

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Facing the Bridge

Title: Facing the Bridge
Author: Tawada Yoko
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2007)
Length: 186 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Facing the Bridge - US
Facing the Bridge - UK
Facing the Bridge - Canada
Facing the Bridge - India
  • These stories first published in Japanese in 1993, 1998, and 2000
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Margaret Mitsutani

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Our Assessment:

B : solid if meditative stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 2/9/2007 David Cozy
The NY Sun . 13/7/2007 Benjamin Lytal

  From the Reviews:
  • "More interesting, though, are the metaphysical boundaries she considers: the gap between language and the world we imagine it maps, the fuzzy space between sounds that have sense and sounds that are nonsense. Tawada produces texts that cannot be placed neatly on this side or that of any number of generic boundaries and, in so doing, elegantly illustrates, in the forms of her tales, the disjunctions with which she is concerned." - David Cozy, The Japan Times

  • "Her best moments, though, have to do with more than language. The only way to take her bilingual approach is to accept it as natural. Ms. Tawada finds herself in what seems like a very contemporary situation: She calls two very different cultures home. Her finest stories dramatize the fate of the individual in mobilized world." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Each of the three longish stories in Facing the Bridge centres around a character or characters who are out of place. Most obviously, they are in a foreign country, but that is only one manifestation of their apartness.
       The Shadow Man has two overlapping storylines, centred on two characters who share the same physical space but inhabit it in different times. One is an historic figure: Amo, an African taken from his native Ghana in the 18th century as a child, first to the Netherlands and then to Germany, where he went on to become a fairly successful academic. The other is a 20th century Japanese student, Tamaso, who has a scholarship to study in the same German town that Amo spent time in. Other presences also figure here, such as the spirit of Lessing -- the author Tamaso is studying, and the great (German) exemplar of tolerance.
       Both Amo and Tamaso are strangers in strange lands, clearly not entirely comfortable with where they find themselves, and Tawada effectively presents their fumblings in these foreign cultures. The seamless transitions between the two periods also work fairly effectively. Tawada's approach to making the connexions and raising a variety of issues tends to be subtle, though even she has a hard time keeping Amo's fascinating history down (and from overwhelming her larger purposes in the story).
       The second story, In front of Trang Tien Bridge, focusses on Kazuko, and begins when she receives a letter inviting her to come to Viet Nam. Kazuko is "a full-time tourist", her life defined by that (no room for kids, for example), and:

being a tourist, she was obligated to go sightseeing every day. It was her duty to visit every famous place, whether she wanted to or not
       In Berlin, where she is when she receives the letter, she is sometimes mistaken for Vietnamese (a large Vietnamese population, mainly in the former East Germany, being a legacy of earlier communist country ties), and so in some sense she is doubly a foreigner, not even recognised for the actual type of foreigner she is (Japanese rather than Vietnamese). Once in Viet Nam she acts similarly, repeatedly asking a (Caucasian) man she meets there, James, how come he speaks Japanese, unable to completely process or, apparently, accept his explanation:
"Because I'm Japanese. As I told you before. Time and again."
       Identity, rooted in some homeland, proves elusive: Tawada's characters all feel very free-floating -- though that lack of a tether often seems very unsettling to them. The final story, Saint George and the Translator, sees the character not only in a foreign place (the Canary Islands) but literally grappling with recasting one culture in another, as she is working on a literary translation. Despite obviously having gone far out of her way to work specifically here, she insists she is there only to work; she is not, however, entirely successful, easily distracted, unable to rid herself of a variety of concerns, and, ultimately, chased down by one Saint George after another.
       She says:
Ever since I landed on this island I've thought of nothing else but translating this "story" and now with only one day left I still didn't know how to do it.
       This sense of the impossibility of adequately grasping the foreign -- even when it seems straightforward enough -- is present throughout the collection, and Tawada does a good job of conveying that.
       The translator also complains:
Fiction should feel like a borrowed coat softened by many wearings but these groups of letters were like grains of sun-baked sand that won't stick to your skin so you couldn't start reading them as if you were slipping your arms through the sleeves of a coat.
       Tawada herself seems happy to keep her fiction from being too easy to put on; it doesn't grate, but it's no easy fit either. At about 50-page length these stories are a difficult size, though appropriate for Tawada's almost rambling approach: she doesn't get to any quick points, but also doesn't want to build these stories up into larger fictions (though she does have a bit of difficulty restraining herself with the rich Amo-material).
       Worth mentioning also: Margaret Mitsutani's Afterword, which considers all three stories more closely too, and offers the translator's perspective -- considerably more useful than most such notes are.
       A decent little collection, interestingly done.

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Facing the Bridge: Reviews: Anton Wilhelm Rudolph Amo: Tawada Yoko: Other books by Tawada Yoko under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Tawada Yoko (多和田葉子) was born in Tokyo in 1960 and moved to Germany when she was 22. She writes in both Japanese and German.

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© 2007-2022 the complete review

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