Animals, japanese, Japanese Culture, literature, Novels, Translation, Women

Revisiting Mieko Kanai’s “Oh Tama!” in translation

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Submission by: Assoc. Prof. Tomoko Aoyama

Kanai, Mieko. Oh Tama: A Mejiro Novel. Translated by Tomoko Aoyama and Paul McCarthy. Stone Bridge Press, 2018.

Originally published by Kurodahan Press, Oh Tama! A Mejiro Novel has been revised and re-published by Stone Bridge Press. Translators Tomoko Aoyama and Paul McCarthy have noted that this novel is not just for those who are interested in Japanese studies or translated works but would appeal to cat lovers, literary comedy and satire fans, and those who love to revel in nostalgia for the 1980’s (which is enjoying a boom in pop-culture at the moment evident through the popularity of series such as Netflix’s Stranger Things). 

Originally published in 1987 and winning the Women’s Literature Award in the following year, Mieko Kanai’s novel Oh Tama!, according to Stone Bridge Press, “describes the haphazard lives of Natsuyuki Kanemitsu and his loosely connected circle of dysfunctional acquaintances and family. Natsuyuki is prevailed upon by his friend Alexandre, an occasional porn-film actor, to adopt the very pregnant cat Tama, who gives birth and remains throughout the novel as a silent observer of her human hosts. Further complications arise surrounding the mystery of who the father of Alexandre’s sister Tsuneko’s unborn child is, with Tsuneko (a bar owner) happy to collect money from anyone who may be responsible. One of these possible dads turns out to be Natsuyuki’s half-brother, abandoned and forgotten long ago as easily as Tama has parted with her kittens”.

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Mieko Kanai, a Japanese author, essayist, and reviewer, is known for her “scathing and perceptive wit”, making her works deliciously humourous and accessible to a wide variety of readers.

Oh, Tama! plays out against a backdrop of cramped apartments and cheap food and drink where everyone seems to have an opinion on film, photography, and fashionable French art theory”. Translator Tomoko Aoyama, a personal fan of Mieko Kanai’s work, has also translated other works of Kanai’s such as Indian Summer, and has written numerous articles on Kanai’s use of humour and feminism.

Oh Tama! has been published in a series dubbed the “Mejiro” novels by Stone Bridge Press, named after the northwest area of Tokyo.

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Praise for the translation of Oh Tama! (from Stone Bridge Press):

“A comic masterpiece in a brilliant translation that captures the verbal acrobatics of the original with wit and warmth. Oh, Tama! made me laugh so much people were staring at me in the subway. One of the funniest books I have ever read.”

Janine Beichman, recipient, National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship, 2018-2019 and Translator of Ōoka Makoto, Beneath the Sleepless Tossing of the Planets

Oh, Tama! is a zany sendup of family life, featuring a pregnant cat, an absent though pregnant bar owner, a freelance photographer, and assorted semi-relatives who drop by to cuddle the cat and strain the photographer’s hospitality. Kanai Mieko is one of Japan’s leading authors, and her sly mix of high-minded ideas with earthy humor has been perfectly captured in this lively translation.”

Phyllis Birnbaum, translator of Heaven and Hell by Takarabe Toriko

“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

Keywords:
Translation; Kanai Mieko; Oh Tama!; Japanese; Literature; Novels; Cats; Humour;

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