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Scattered All Over the Earth review: A fascinating tale of language and culture in flux

This is a novel with a dry wit, thanks to cultural misunderstandings, but it has serious questions at its heart.

Scattered All Over the Earth is out now (Granta)

A unique perspective comes in the shape of Scattered All Over the Earth, written by Yoko Tawada and translated by Margaret Mitsutani. The author grew up in Japan but has lived in Germany for decades, and she brings that internationalist approach to this fascinating near-future tale of language and culture in flux.

Hiruko is a climate refugee, her native Japan having sunk into the sea. Now living in Denmark, she invents a simplistic language called Panska (from Pan-Scandinavian) which she teaches to immigrant children. When linguist Knut hears of this, he seeks her out.

The two go on a quest around northern Europe to find others who speak her native language. 

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Along the way they encounter a wide cast of characters, Tawada using them to examine issues of environmentalism, colonialism, language and power. But the author does so with a light hand, always making the emotional truth of her characters central to her story. This novel has a dry wit, thanks to cultural misunderstandings, but it has serious questions at its heart. What does it mean to be from a country or culture that no longer exists? How can you create your own space in the world? Engrossing and thought-provoking stuff.

Doug Johnstone is a journalist and author

You can buy Scattered All Over the Earth from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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