Though the characters of these three mesmerizing novellas are all looking for "bridges," they face personal voids instead, gaps between their perceptions of past and present, and dislocations in time and place. Each of the characters has traveled to a new place from the "homeland" where s/he was born, and each now lives in a new culture into which s/he does not quite fit. As each deals with the disconnections in his/her life, the author creates almost mystical scenes--not quite real and not quite nightmare, with fantasy and reality overlapping, both for the characters and for the reader. The miscommunications and lack of communication that occur among people living in foreign cultures add to the burdens each faces.
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