Where Europe Begins

ISBN: 0811215156
ISBN 13: 9780811215152
By: Yōko Tawada

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About this book

Where Europe Begins presents a collection of startling new stories by Japanese writer Yoko Tawada. Moving through landscapes of fairy tales, family history, strange words and letters, dreams, and every-day reality, Tawada's work blurs divisions between fact and fiction, prose and poetry. Often set in physical spaces as disparate as Japan, Siberia, Russia, and Germany, these tales describe a fragmented world where even a city or the human body can become a sort of text. Suddenly, the reader becomes as much a foreigner as the author and the figures that fill this book: the ghost of a burned woman, a woman traveling on the Trans-Siberian railroad, a mechanical doll, a tongue, a monk who leaps into his own reflection. Tawada playfully makes the experience of estrangement -- of a being in-between -- both sensual and bewildering, and as a result practically invents a new way of seeing things while telling a fine story.

Reader's Thoughts


Tawada can be compared to no other. Literally nothing has been lost in translation. The English version of her prose takes on a whole new, exciting world and the reader cannot help but fondle the details. Her attention to movement, identity, and beauty coupled with libidinal undertones, some quite literal, make her work unique and compelling. Tawada brings new attention to World Literature and rightly so.


Interpreters are like prostitutes that serve the occupying forces; their own countrymen hold them in contempt. It's as if the German entering my ears were something like spermatic fluid.*I had decided not to read any writing on Sundays. Instead I observed the people I saw on the street as though they were isolated letters. Sometimes two people sat down next to each other in a café, and thus, briefly, formed a word. Then they separated, in order to go off and form other words. There must have been a moment in which the combinations of these words formed, quite by chance, several sentences in which I might have read this foreign city like a text.// "Where Europe begins" Yoko Tawada


Tawada lives in Germany and is now one of the most prominent voices of both Japanese and German literature, writing in both languages. Her writing, often surreal, contains unexpected surprises on every page.


Introductions by Wim Wenders! Blurbed by Victor Pelevin! Modern fairy tales by a Japanese scholar of Russian and German literature! This had better be good.


Finished this one on the chinatown bus back to New York and when I closed the cover I thought the bus might lift off the road

Lakis Fourouklas

As the acclaimed director Wim Wenders points out at the forward, this book could have only been written by a Japanese. And a great book it is. Where Europe Begins is a collection of short stories that someone, anyone really, could call postmodern. Dream and reality, fantasy and life, legend and history seem to be bounded together in harmony in these narrations. The author seems to be playing games with us and her heroes, winking an eye every now and then and saying: Nothing really is what it seems. The collection opens with The Bath, a story where the main characters change roles or maybe costumes all the time; as if they are only faces distorted by the mirrors of reality or, in a strange way, just like puppeteers. The Reflection, which follows, is extremely poetic and talks about the drowning of Buddhist monk in a small lake and a young girl’s connection to him. In Spores, the writer seems to find herself in an acrobatic exhibition, walking the tightrope of words, meanings, dreams and reality, while in the Canned Foreign we start on a journey to language and its wealth, with the precious help of Sasha and Sonia. Gilda, a woman full of fears and insecurities, is the main character in The Talisman. She does nothing but collect talismans, which will supposedly protect her from the alien that hides inside her own body, or in the computer, or even in her soup. Raisin Eyes is a story that sounds funny but it’s not. It’s the story of a girl, whose father became a woman after eating some fresh bread. Storytellers Without Souls is more like an essay about language, hearing and narration, than a short story. Written in a kind of light way it’s a pleasure to read. The title of the next story tells it all: Tongue Dance. Through this weird story the writer allows us to take a look into a world of total paranoia, where we meet a girl that dreams that she’s been transformed into a giant tongue. One of the very best (if not the best) stories in this collection is the one that gives it its title. A young woman starts off from Japan for a long sea and land journey towards Europe; or rather towards Where Europe Begins. The narrator starts writing her travelling journals even before the trip begins, in order to know what to say next. The narration here seems fractured, constructed by bits and pieces that hold it together lightly, moving forth and back all the time, mixing myth with reality. During the long journey we come to learn a few things about the Sleeping Land (Siberia), its people and their traditions. We come to the end with A Guest, which tells the story of a woman that visits the doctor because of a severe pain in the air, only to find out that she’s pregnant. As if that’s not enough she then goes on to buy a book, which turns out to be tapes. In these tapes someone is reading the book so that’s not too bad after all. Or is it? As it seems it actually is, since sooner than later the sound of that voice will start driving her crazy. She’ll hear it all the time, whether she plays the tapes or not, day and night. Left with no other option and in her struggle to survive she’s trying to do the only thing she can do; abolish the alphabet. In this story every boundary seems to be coming tumbling down and one can no longer tell what is real and what is not. Where Europe Begins is one of the best short-story collections I’ve read lately and Yoko Tawada is in her own special way a superb storyteller. Highly recommended.


Where Europe Begins is a wonderful book of short stories by Yoko Tawada that takes place in Europe and Japan. The author wrote some of the stories in Japanese and some of the stories in German. To read more of my review please go to this link: http://japanesefiction.hubpages.com/h...

Robin Martin

I want to give this book a 3.5, because though "I Really Liked" the writer's skill with language, I found the tales difficult and at times redundant. This is another book that I think I would appreciate much more after discussing it with other readers. Having said that, there are quite a few moments in the book that are 5-star beautiful, amazing lines, like these: “Even a right moon can be wrong at the wrong moment.” (Tawada, 61)“When talking to a large company over dinner, one is not so much looking for things to say as walking along a narrow road trying not to touch things one shouldn’t and somehow making one’s way forward.” (Tawada, 79)“Maybe if one simply gathers up one’s courage to fly, one doesn’t fall.” (Tawada, 84)“The tales told by the dead are fundamentally different, because their stories are not told to conceal their wounds.” (Tawada 108)“I keep hearing a woman’s voice, too, one that tells me all the times I keep doing something wrong. But I know perfectly well whose voice it is.” (Tawada, 179)“How strange! In order to read, I have to look at the text. But to avoid stumbling, I have to pretend the letters don’t exist. This is the secret of the alphabet: the letters aren’t there any longer, and at the same time they haven’t yet vanished.” (Tawada 118)You can read someone else's review if you want a summary.

Will E

A collection of awesomely fucked up fever dreams and fairy tales. Extremely surrealist, but highly controlled- it all ties together in its batshit crazy way. Obsessions with being in between languages/cultures and body parts don't become repetitive throughout these stories but ties them more deeply together. Great translations except for a few majorly awkward sentences in the Japanese translations, which can be overlooked by other translation choices (in the same story) that are brilliant and creative. A must read for those interested in great Japanese or surrealist writers

Patrik Sampler

I was inspired to read Where Europe Begins when a reviewer compared my own work (To the Stoning: Leftist Erotica) to that of Yoko Tawada. Where Europe Begins is a collection of short stories including two short novellas, translated into English from both German and Japanese. To be sure, something may be lost in translation, which perhaps is responsible for my feeling that pacing and syntax is somewhat 'off' in places where it might easily have been 'on'. This applies especially in the opening novella, in which there is also something naive in Tawada's spelling out the action: when a character replies with a non sequitur we don't need to be told so; in a clearly surreal narrative there's no need to excuse the action with 'it-was-just-a-dream-and-then-I-woke-up'. Further, symbols seem tossed around, and one wonders whether they are worth attempting to decipher as a totality. Into the book's middle (a short story collection sandwiched between the two novellas) things warm up considerably, with original and memorable observations, and a more assertive engagement of the surreal, which, in an age of super-dull formula novels, postmodern wanking, and crappy creative nonfiction, is something to be celebrated.From "Storytellers without Souls", in the book's middle: "The claim that a person who writes is not truly living can be made only by someone who sees a person and his life as a subject and object."Note on the introduction by Wim Wenders: if, like me, you aren't a fan of his films, it doesn't mean you won't share his love for this book -- so don't let it deter you.


A VERY difficult, but beautifully evocative and ultimately rewarding read. It was worth buying this for the story 'Where Europe Begins' alone.

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