by Tawada, Yoko; Mitsutani, Margaret (TRN)

In Japan, which has cut itself off from the world after suffering a massive irreparable disaster, Yoshiro cares for his grandson, Mumei, a strangely wonderful boy and ancient soul whom he believes is a beacon of hope for the world in this time of darkness. Original.

Tawada (Memoirs of a Polar Bear, 2016) offers an airily beautiful dystopian novella about mortality. After a disaster, Japan isolates itself from the rest of the world in the hope of containing the fallout. In this post-disaster Japan, the elderly are strong and sprightly, cursed with a long life of caring for a generation of feeble great-grandchildren, born with grey hair, weak joints, and poor constitutions. Yoshiro cares for his great-grandson Mumei, whose mouth bleeds when he eats and whose knock-knees make walking near impossible. Yet as Yoshiro's heart breaks over Mumei's waning health, his spirit is uplifted by the child's inability to feel self-pity or pessimism and his unyielding hope and ageless wisdom.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. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

In this slim, impactful novel, surrealist master Tawada (Memoirs of a Polar Bear, 2016, etc.) imagines a dystopian Japan reckoning with its own identity.In the wake of an economic and environmental tragedy that eerily echoes 2011's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster, the Japanese government implements an "isolation policy," cutting the country off from the outside world. Central Tokyo is deserted, the country's soil is contaminated, its plants have mutated, and its people are living under a capricious governing body that has not only waged a war on words (the term "mutation" having been replaced by the more agreeable "environmental adaptation"), but has proven to have a penchant for tinkering with the laws: "Afraid of getting burned by laws they couldn't see, everyone kept their intuition honed as sharp as a knife, practicing restraint and self-censorship on a daily basis." A writer unsettled by the turn his country has taken, Yoshiro's main concern is the declining health o f his grandson, Mumei. In this new era, children are wise beyond their years, but their bodies are brittle, aging vessels, and the elderly have become a new kind of species, cursed with the gift of everlasting life, "burdened with the terrible task of watching their great-grandchildren die." Left in Yoshiro's care after the death of his mother and disappearance of his father, Mumei, feeble (and toothless) as he is, fills his grandfather's interminable days with life. Despite the gloomy circumstances, Tawada's narrative remains incandescent as she charts the hopeful paths both grandfather and grandson embark upon in their attempt to overcome mortality's grim restraints. Striving to persist in a time when intolerance abounds and "the shelf life of words [is] getting shorter all the time," Mumei's searching curiosity and wonder toward the world inspire faith that, even in the darkest of days, humanity cannot be forsaken. An ebullient meditation on language and time that feels s t rikingly significant in the present moment. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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