The Dreamy, Sensual, and Bizarre Folk Tales of Yoko Tawada

Yoko Tawada’s English-language publisher, New Directions, describes her slender book The Bridegroom Was a Dog in simple and straightforward terms: “A bizarre tale of passion and romance between a schoolteacher and a dog.” There is, of course, complexity to this tight and colorful novella (written in 1993, and translated from Japanese in 1998), in which the life of Mitsuko, an eccentric teacher, begins to take on the qualities of a fable when a strange, doglike man arrives in her home and engulfs her life. Dark humor dovetails with stark and erotic prose as the story careens through surreal twists and turns. The story is narrated with the breathless quality and wide-eyed spirit of a child telling a fairytale for the first time, with visceral, lively details spilling across the page:

One August day soon after school had let out for the summer, a man of twenty-seven or -eight came calling at the Kitamura School with an old-fashioned leather suitcase but not a trace of sweat on him despite the hot sun beating down from above, and although he didn’t look like a friend of Mitsuko’s, with his closely cropped hair, immaculate white shirt, neatly creased trousers and polished leather shoes, he seemed to know all about her house, for he walked straight into the garden through the gap in the fence, and when he saw Mitsuko repairing her mountain bike, half-naked, her hair disheveled, he went right up to her and said:

“I’m here to stay.”

Mitsuko’s eyes widened and rolled upward, her mouth dropped open and she forgot to close it, and since she couldn’t think of what to say, she kept touching her throat with her fingertips, while the man silently put his suitcase down on the veranda, took off his wristwatch, and gave it two or three hard shakes as though to get the water out of it.

“Did you get my telegram?” he asked with a knowing laugh.

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