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The Emissary is a short novel which focuses on Japan after a disaster strikes the country. This calamity has created an alternate universe, set far in the future, where children are so weak they are almost unable to walk, the elderly (who are healthier than the kids) having to look after them day by day. The disaster which occurred has caused Japan to be completely shut off from the rest of the world, numerous “environmental adaptations” to happen, and most species to have gone extinct. This dystopia centers around Mumei, a child who lives with his great-grandfather named Yoshiro and must be taken care of by him. The entirety of the novel flips all that we believe to be true upside down – younger generations inheriting the earth and replacing older generations – and sets up a society which seems impossible.


““Grown-ups can live if children die…but if grown-ups die, children can’t live”” (36).


This sheer aspect of the book already places readers in a much different reality than what they are used to. Yoko makes a known matter of life completely irrelevant throughout The Emissary, adding to the interest of the book. That being said, Tawada seems to have also created a future that almost seems likely with the amount of conflict in our political climate. The disasters which face communities and environmental adaptations due to humans are all realities that we live with today, something which I feel Yoko took inspiration from. All of the horrible fears humans have in humanity come true in this book.

After reading The Emissary for the second time, I have come to realize that the novel is filled with fantastic humor. This is something which I greatly appreciated, as I believe that just because literature has dark connotations does not mean that it has to be completely serious. Writing humorously is also something which can be a great challenge and one which is not seen very often. Tawada succeeds in her apparent attempt at making The Emissary a humorous novel, adding to the text and the enjoyment of reading The Emissary. Some of my favorite quotations which display the humor used throughout the book are:


“Yoshiro wasn’t able to reach across the three baby carriages blocking his way to get to the newly published paperback In Praise of Masturbation” (67).


“Once thousands of dead penguins had washed up on a beach in South Africa, and a company run by an international pirate gang had dried the meat, which it then ground into powder to make meat biscuits for children. According to the newspaper, another company was smuggling the biscuits into Japan, making a killing” (94).


“Just as playful wrestling matches helped make lion cubs strong enough to survive on the savannah, these children were learning about the earth through physical contact. If he were to give a name to the first morning class, it would be “spontaneous romping”” (113).


   Reading The Emissary for the first time, I missed much of the humor which was inserted into the book. Going back a second time and focusing on the deeper meaning of the text, I was able to comprehend many of the fun tidbits which Tawada added to keep her audience entertained. The humor used is definitely presented in the word choice made, and without such clever planning, would not have been successful. I am glad to have had the time to go back over the text and make this realization for myself. Without these elements of style, The Emissary would have wound up being a very different novel, and very possibly much less enjoyable.

   One final point I would like to bring up about The Emissary is the word choice and descriptions used by Yoko (which supplements the success in the humor). Much of The Emissary are in-depth descriptions of people, places, or things.


“Ten empty cans were lined up on the windowsill, each four inches tall, each with a small flower in it. A purple bell, a yellow pitcher, a red firecracker, a white whin, a scarlet stain” (106).


To help explain how common these many descriptors are, my process of finding the given quotation was flipping to a random page in the book and reading the first sentence I laid my eyes on. Descriptions such as the given quotation fill the book to the brim, without any detail being left without great explanation.

   Overall, the literary trait I took away from this reading the most was the use of successful humor. This is a goal I have been attempting to add to my writing for a very long time, yet still struggle to create a story which adds this component to it in a manner which is done well. There are many traits I took away from Yoko’s writing which I feel I can apply to my own, and hopefully, achieve the humor I am aiming for in my written works.


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