Facing the Bridge Paperback – Apr 24 2007
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The three stories in Tawada's second book in English (after The Bridegroom Was a Dog, 1998) depict the horrors of deracination. "The Shadow Man" regularly shifts focus from a brilliant black man in eighteenth-century Europe (a genuine historical figure, he had been, when a seven-year-old captive, "adopted" by a slaver captain) to a contemporary Japanese student in Germany; both youths try to fit in, only to become more alien. The 35-ish Japanese woman in "In Front of Trang Tien Bridge," who considers herself "a member of the tourist race" but whom Berliners mistake for Vietnamese, suddenly flies to Vietnam, where she meets a Caucasian man who insists he is Japanese; traveling with him eventuates in the fragmentation of her identity. In "St. George and the Translator," a reclusive, paranoiac Japanese woman hiding in the Canary Islands, laboriously translating two pages of German about the great dragon slayer, cracks up as she anticipates being found by a real George. Tawada's chilling evocations of disorientation are the peers of Paul Bowles' most chilling stories. Ray Olson
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Tawada's chillng evocations of disorientation are the peers of Paul Bowles' most chilling stories. -- Booklist, Ray OlsonSee all Product Description
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The two main characters of "The Shadow Man" are so similar psychologically that they might be considered to be two aspects of the same person, though they come from different backgrounds and times. Amo, based on a historical personage, was brought to Germany from Africa in a "huge floating temple" occupied by Bad Spirits, who seized him at the age of seven and brought him to Germany as a slave. Though Amo becomes the first African to obtain a PhD degree from a European university, his attempts to fit into eighteenth century German society are hesitant, and his shyness with women makes relationships tenuous at best. Interjected with Amo's story (and introduced without any transitions) is the story of Tamao, a contemporary Japanese national studying in Germany, who finds that he belongs neither to the Japanese nor German cultures.
"In Front of Tran Tien Bridge" tells of Kazuko Minamiyama, a Japanese living in Berlin who travels to Vietnam shortly after the "American" war. A friend has seen someone in Vietnam who looks just like her. Since Kazuko regards being a tourist as a job, she is careful to behave exactly as tourists behave, a quiet satire which is well integrated with author Tawada's themes of miscommunication and alienation. Throughout the trip, Kazuko discovers women who look exactly like her, with more and more of them appearing the longer she stays in Vietnam.
Set in the Canary Islands, "Saint George and the Translator" features a speaker who is working on a translation about St. George and the Dragon. There, she finds herself unable to work or to see the fragments of the manuscript as a whole. Quotations of the story of St. George and the Dragon are interspersed with the action, and symbolic questions arise about the nature of St. George and, more importantly, the nature of the dragon, and where the translator fits between them. Eventually, she befriends an abusive ice cream vendor, with whom she finds herself "trapped in the embrace of St. George."
As the characters constantly re-examine their roles in alien societies and among alien people, they also contribute to the alienation through their behavior, intentionally or not. An aura of sexuality pervades the stories--though it is distanced, almost chaste in its expression--and the reader observes that in this, as in other areas, communication does not take place as one might expect. Featuring characters who are solitary, either by nature or through the circumstances of their lives, these stories bring each character to the point at which s/he must begin to "face the bridge." n Mary Whipple
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