Keith Spencer is a visual artist and translator based in Kyoto. His artwork has been exhibited in the US, Japan, and Canada, while his translations have appeared in artist books, galleries, and numerous art-related online publications.
Keith chose to chat about the novel The Emissary (also known in the USA as The Last Children of Tokyo), by Yoko Tawada and translated by Margaret Mitsutani.
Japan, after suffering from a massive irreparable disaster, cuts itself off from the world. Children are so weak they can barely stand or walk: the only people with any get-go are the elderly. Mumei lives with his grandfather Yoshiro, who worries about him constantly.
They carry on a day-to-day routine in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima time, with all the children born ancient–frail and gray-haired, yet incredibly compassionate and wise.
Mumei may be enfeebled and feverish, but he is a beacon of hope, full of wit and free of self-pity and pessimism. Yoshiro concentrates on nourishing Mumei, a strangely wonderful boy who offers “the beauty of the time that is yet to come.”
In this episode we mention a few articles and books.
- The Novelist Yoko Tawada Conjures a World Between Languages – An article primarily about Tawada’s latest novel, with a good background on her ideas as an author.
- Some Prefer Footnotes: A conversation with Margaret Mitsutani about her translation of Yoko Tawada’s The Emissary
- Borderlands / La frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa (1987)
- Dark Neighbourhood by Vanessa Onwuemezi (2021) – Great interview with her here
Website: Keith Spencer
A podcast where professional Japanese to English translators and editors chat about their favorite translations.
Hosted and edited by Jennifer O’Donnell
Music by Alex Valles
Logo by Katherine Soldevilla