Multilingual double-talents often convey the impression that they can do everything without trying. Yoko Tawada (1960) is so many-sided that it is hard to say ‘what she is’. She is multilingual, she publishes in Japanese and in German, but she has also studied Russian literature at one of Japan’s most renowned universities.
She has made her home in several places; at 22 she moved from Tokyo to Hamburg, where she still lives. She has won numerous literary awards in and outside Japan, mostly for her prose work. In Japan she is best known as a writer of novellas and novels. For her novella The Bridegroom Was a Dog (1993) which casually introduces an ancient legend in a modern Tokyo suburb, and which has also appeared in English translation, she received the well-known Akutagawa Prize, and in 2003 she won the prestigious Tanizaki Prize for her dream novel Suspect on the Night Train. In the meantime she obtained her doctor’s degree at the University of Zurich with a dissertation on a subject from German literature.
In much of her work she sounds like someone feeling at home with alienating situations. Not because such situations are familiar – not to us perhaps, but to her – but rather because alienation happens to be the dominant mode of being. Tawada looks for these zones between cultures, but also between perception and experience, where language may again give shape to its own raison d’être. This makes her poetry undeniably open; open to what has to be expressed as well as to what language can do with itself.
[Yoko Tawada took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2004. This text was written on that occasion.]