Kanai Mieko: Oh, Tama!

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Oh, Tama!


by KANAI Mieko
Translated by Tomoko AOYAMA and Paul McCARTHY

Oh, Tama! takes the reader deep into the haphazard lives of Natsuyuki, the protagonist, and his loosely connected circle of dysfunctional acquaintances and family. Trying to keep some semblance of order and decency in his life, working as an occasional freelance photographer, Natsuyuki is visited by his delinquent friend Alexandre, who unexpectedly entrusts him with his sister's pregnant cat, Tama. Despite his initial protests, Natsuyuki accepts his new responsibility and cares compassionately for Tama and her kittens.

Half-sister Tsuneko, meanwhile, is herself pregnant by one of several lovers, all patrons of the bar she runs. She contacts three of them, claiming each to be the father, and demands money. One of these is Fuyuhiko, the older half-brother of Natsuyuki, although he is not aware of this fact. When Fuyuhiko comes to Tokyo in search of Tsuneko, he gravitates to Natsuyuki's apartment, where he and Alexandre move in with the weak-willed Natsuyuki.

Awarded the Women's Literature Prize in Japan, Oh, Tama! is the second book in the Mejiro Series, named after the area of Tokyo between the mega-towns of Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. The main characters (not to mention the author and her artist sister Kanai Kumiko) all live in this area. Most of the main characters in one book appear as side characters in the others. Natsuyuki and Alexandre, for example, appear in the third work in the series, Indian Summer. The protagonists of that book—Momoko, Hanako and Momoko's writer-aunt—all appear first in Oh, Tama!.

These Mejiro texts are full of humor and irony. While earlier works of Kanai are noted for their surrealistic, sensuous and poetic style and arresting, at times violent themes, the Mejiro novels focus on the human comedy in the seemingly mundane, actual world. The protagonists of the series are, however, in one way or another engaged in creative or intellectual activities, even though they are often unemployed or at loose ends.

While a few of the author's short stories, poems, and excerpts from her longer works were translated into English beginning in the late 1970s, and attracted some attention among feminist literary scholars, this is only the third book-length English translation of her work, following The Word Book and Indian Summer.


Reviews

  • Mieko Kanai, a prize-winning poet, eminent critic and author of experimental fiction that evokes comparisons to the works of Borges and Kafka, has also, in her "Mejiro" series, produced a series of novels notably lighter in tone. ...philosophical speculation and mind-bending textual play give way to a more light-hearted look at how people make their way in the contemporary world.
    —David Cozy, Japan Times
  • ...the plot turns on the reader's varied emotions—sometimes furious with Alexandre and Fuyuhiko for taking advantage of Natsuyuki, then suddenly furious with Natsuyuki for not sticking up for himself and throwing the interlopers out of his apartment. At times one feels sorry for the desperate Fuyuhiko, who searches for his pregnant lover, yet at other times one feels anger toward him for not being able to put her behind him. [...] Is this a strange tale? Not so much strange as convoluted. Yet it is an enticing novel and one that allows the reader to envelop herself in the strange sights, sounds, and tastes of this group of Japanese characters.
    —Janet Mary Livesey, World Literature Today
  • The unemployed photographer, the foreign-blooded porn actor and the confused psychiatrist are all connected in that they are existing outside the notoriously regimented constraints of mainstream Japanese society. They all scrape by on a day-to-day basis and occasionally show that they're not quite as cheerful on the inside as it appears on the outside... However, what they also have in common is a bond which allows them to seek comfort, and what Kanai does cleverly in Oh, Tama! is construct a cohesive social group from very different parts.
    —Tony Malone, Tony's Reading List
  • ...what appealed to me most about Oh, Tama! were the characters themselves. Natsuyuki is a fairly laid back sort of guy, but this tendency (mostly because complaining or actually trying to change things would take too much effort) puts him into some odd situations. Alexandre, who seems to delight in messing with people, is often more concerned about Tama and the kittens than any of the people around him. I found their slightly antagonistic friendship and their interactions with Fuyuhiko and the others to be highly entertaining. I greatly enjoyed Oh, Tama! and its quirky, understated humor. So much so that I plan on reading the next novel in the Mejiro Series, Indian Summer, in the very near future.
    —Ash Brown, Experiments in Manga

Details

  • Pages: 208
  • Trade paperback 5" x 8" (127mm x 203mm)
  • ISBN: 978-4-902075-67-0
  • Kurodahan Press Book No. FG-JP0041L
  • List Price: US$13.00
  • Cover: Shōji Shizuka

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About the author

Photo of Kanai Mieko
©Midō Yoshinori

KANAI Mieko (金井 美恵子) (b.1947) has steadily produced poetry, fiction, and criticism of a very high order since making her literary debut in her teens. In 1967 she was runner-up for the Dazai Osamu Prize for Ai no seikatsu (A Life of Love), and the following year she received the Gendaishi Techō Prize for poetry. In 1979 she was awarded the Izumi Kyōka Prize for Puraton-teki ren'ai (Platonic Love), and in 1988 she received the Women's Literature Award for Tama ya (Oh, Tama!). While maintaining a certain distance from literary circles and journalism, she has created her own world of fiction that mixes the sensual with humor, beauty, and horror, nostalgia with realism, the highbrow with the popular. She is an outspoken critic of gender-based discrimination and bias. Along with her fiction, her film and literary criticism, demonstrating scathing insight and wide-ranging erudition, also has a devoted following.


About the translators

Tomoko Aoyama is Associate Professor of Japanese language and literature at the University of Queensland, Australia. Her recent publications include Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008) and Girl Reading Girl in Japan, co-edited with Barbara Hartley (Routledge, 2010). She has published numerous book chapters and journal articles on topics ranging from early twentieth-century anti-naturalist literature to parody, humor and intertextuality in contemporary women's literature and manga. She has translated Kanai Mieko's novel Indian Summer (Cornell East Asia Series, 2012, with Barbara Hartley) and a number of critical essays and short stories by Mishima Yukio, Shibusawa Tatsuhiko, Honda Masuko, Kawasaki Kenko, and Takahara Eiri, among others.

Paul McCarthy was born in Canada, raised and educated in the US, graduating in English Literature and Japanese language from the University of Minnesota (Mpls/St. Paul) in 1966. He received a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University (1975), with a thesis on "The Early Life and Works of Tanizaki Jun'ichiro." He has taught Japanese and English language and literature, comparative literature and religion at the Universities of Kansas and Minnesota in the US, and Rikkyo and Surugadai Universities in Japan, as well as serving as Visiting Professor at the International Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto for one year. Currently Professor Emeritus of Comparative Culture, Surugadai University, and a resident in Tokyo.
He is active as a writer on Japanese literature (notably Tanizaki Jun'ichirō, Mishima Yukio, and Nakajima Atsushi) and as a translator of Japanese literary works into English (Tanizaki, Nakajima, Kanai Mieko, Shiba Ryōtarō, and modern Japanese poetry). He is interested in the relation of literature and religion and general culture. His full-length literary translations include:

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