A Mejiro Novel
A deeply eccentric novel about lives and connections—and a cat of course—in 1980s Tokyo: witty, offbeat, and strangely profound.
Oh, Tama! 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.
A "fast and comedic novel," 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. It is part of the author's esteemed series of "Mejiro" novels, named after the northwest area of Tokyo that so richly informs their urbanity and outlook.
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"[Mieko Kanai is] not interested in describing objects; she wants to accentuate their amorphous nature."
“Kanai's stories remind me of Italo Calvino or Jorge Luis Borges, with their stylistically vague flatness yet strong character-driven underpinnings… I highly recommended them and look forward to more.”
—Todd Shimoda, Asian Review of Books
“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."
". . . 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. . . . 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."
—David Cozy, The Japan Times
Reviews for Word Book
“Kanai has an ephemeral sensuality that offsets and complements her modulated voices, who guide you through mini epics in this crisp, cool collection.”
—Bret McCabe, Baltimore City Paper
“Realities shift and are at once dreamlike and tangible. The range of subject matter and register is dazzling.”
—Steve Finbow, The Japan Times
"These stories demand attentive reading, although, as with a David Lynch film, it seems the solution to the puzzle will always be just beyond reach; but also like in Lynch’s films, the payoff is in trying to unravel the mystery, and in the beauty of the journey."
"The brilliance of this collection completely caught me off guard, explorations of relationships lost, meditations on authorship, examination of events, that skip from dream, to memory, from childhood to adulthood,and pass from generation to generation, memories that seem to hover and exist in some other ethereal realm."
About the Author(s)
She read widely in fiction and poetry from an early age. In 1968 she received the Gendaishi Techo Prize for poetry. In 1979 she received the Izumi Kyoka Prize, and in 1988 the current work, Oh, Tama! (Tama ya), received the Women's Literature Award.
Research interests include modern and contemporary Japanese literature (anti-naturalist movement circa 1910, parody, Russo-Japanese War literature, literary daughters, food in literature) and Japanese girls' manga. Her current research project concerns older women's humour in contemporary Japanese literature, film and theatre.