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It is perhaps unsurprising that a novel written by a Japanese author living in Germany, who regularly writes in both her native and adopted tongues, should focus so much on the nature of communication. The connection between language and identity is at the heart of “Scattered All Over the Earth,” a new novel by Yoko Tawada, translated from Japanese into English by Margaret Mitsutani.

The novel’s protagonist, Hiruko, is a climate refugee cast adrift in northern Europe after Japan has succumbed to an unspecified environmental disaster. The Japanese populace is scattered all over the Earth, and it has been a long time since Hiruko has spoken to anyone in her first language. She works as a storyteller for children in Denmark, translating folk tales and legends into Panska, a language of her own invention based on a blend of Scandinavian languages. Armed with Panska and her own positive, can-do attitude, she is able to converse with anyone she meets but still yearns to speak Japanese.

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