Books / Reviews

Oh, Tama!

by David Cozy

Special To The Japan Times

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. In these books, two of which have been translated into English, 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.

Oh, Tama!, by Mieko Kanai Translated by Tomoko Aoyama, Paul McCarthy.
Kurodahan Press, Fiction.

In “Oh Tama!” Kanai focuses on family, a social unit that is called into question in the first pages of the novel when a heavily pregnant cat, Tama, is dumped on a sporadically employed freelance photographer called Noriyuki, and the point is quickly made that Tama would, presumably, be unable to identify the father of her kittens. Many of the other characters who populate the novel have similarly tenuous family ties: half-brothers they didn’t know they had and who their mutual mother cannot remember; sisters (who might not be sisters) who are pregnant (or maybe not) with children whose paternity is unclear, and so on.

Several of these unmoored characters converge on Nobuyuki’s apartment and form, if not a family, then something that looks a lot like one, complete with not only a maternal figure (a “lady novelist” who falls asleep at parties) but also, in addition to familial companionship and care, the irritation and argument that come with the territory.

Kanai delineates this territory not with drama and histrionics, but with a sharp eye on events that are never important in themselves, but always wittily observed. Translators Tomoko Aoyama and Paul McCarthy capture the sly smile that is surely present in Kanai’s Japanese original.